Thoughts on CityCenter

CityCenter are the huge hunks of steel in the middle of the Las Vegas strip and owned by MGM-Mirage that has been under construction for the past few years.  There are multiple buildings as part of the city and there were multiple grand openings for these properties.  The final building to open was Aria, the casino and hotel, which opened while I was in Vegas.

I waited for everything to have their grand openings before exploring CityCenter.  I walked over from the Bellagio where I had a wonderful cigar and Grey Goose and soda at the Petrossian Lounge.  I was treated to some Christmas songs on piano while enjoying a Sunday night.  This is one of my favorite spots at Bellagio.

I hate crowds and I didn’t need to worry about that when I headed over to CityCenter.  After walking through the construction I finally landed in Crystals mall.  This is a beautiful building, but the lack of opened stores was kind of depressing.  If it wasn’t brand new it would have felt like a mall on its last legs and about to close.

I hope this isn’t an omen for Crystals.  It could just be the bad economy.  Right now, I don’t think the market needs more high end shopping.  Of course, this wasn’t the case when CityCenter was being planned.  Similarly, The Shoppes at Palazzo had a similar feeling but at least there are restaurants to bring people in.

From Crystals I headed into Aria.  One of the cool things about both Crystals and Aria was the modern style and clean lines with interesting shapes and certainly not boring.  Modern style only remains modern for so long and it will be interesting to see how Aria develops in the future.  From the monorail station I felt as if I was looking at a building from the movie Tron.  Below is a sweet water wall outside the main entrance.

The interior of the casino was very dark and the ceilings felt low, even though they weren’t.  My iPhone couldn’t grab any interesting pictures due to the darkness.  This is in contrast to how bright everything was on the outside.

Everything inside the casino was new.  All new versions of my favorite slot machines – including a version of Top Dollar which I’ve never seen before that paid me $200.  All of the slot machines were very bright and showed well in the dark setting.

There was one odd finding at Aria.  There was a lack of ticket cashing machines.  I walked around for a few minutes before I could find one.  I only saw one in the entire casino.  I’m sure there were more, but there was poor signage throughout CityCenter and this was just another example.

There were not many people playing table games.  If I recall correctly all blackjack games under $25 use a Continuous Shuffle Machine (CMS).  I don’t like CMS, but it’s better than 6/5.

After my tour I searched around and around for the monorail to go back to Bellagio.  Since signage was poor it took a few minutes, but I found my way.  The monorail let me off in an area of Bellagio that I’ve never seen.  If I didn’t know what I was looking for there was no way I’d ever wander from Bellagio to CityCenter.

Overall, I have mixed first impressions on CityCenter.  Everything looked very cool and very clean with some innovation that we’ll see in future casinos.  I like the modern feel to everything, but that feeling was subdued by how cold and empty Crystals and Aria felt.  I have the feeling that would have been even deeper if I’d gone into the other buildings.

CityCenter is still so new that I have to reserve judgement.  After all, I hated Wynn after one trip and my December trip changed my mind.  I’m curious to see how the property develops this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing the difference when I visit later this year.

Casa Di Amore

On most trips to Las Vegas I like to take in at least one dinner from a locals type restaurant.  This trip I ended up at Casa Di Amore which had great recommendations on both Yelp and the Las Vegas Trip Advisor Forum.

Casa Di Amore is located about 15 minutes from the strip (on Tropicana) and since I didn’t have a car the offer of a free limo ride was enticing and helped seal the deal for this being a dinner selection.  The limo was an older, (very) worn and essentially an extended town car.  The free ride was nice as my group would have needed two cabs, so we saved a few bucks there.

As we drove up into the strip mall I knew this place was going to either be awesome or awful.  The restaurant was next door too a gun shop, so this kind of set the tone.  I don’t think the insides have been updated in about 30 years and I think that was by design.  The restaurant had photographs of the old Las Vegas casinos and performers.

The photo above is where the 2-man band performed holiday and cover songs.  We were treated to a couple of sets by George Bugatti.  Normally I hate live music when I’m trying to eat, but the volume wasn’t too intrusive and the selections were fun enough not too bother me.

If you couldn’t guess by the name Casa Di Amore is an Italian restaurant.  Everything tasted as if it was made by a friends mother.  For my main course I shared a fantastic Chicken Piccata and Gnocci Bolognese.  Sharing is not only fun, but it’s a good way to sample the flavors and not to overeat – something that happens a bit too often.

Casa Di Amore was a very wholesome type dinner.  It’s another nice off the beaten path Italian restaurant in Vegas.  The last time I went a little out of the way for Italian was to Nora’s, which was phenomenal.  Nora’s is pretty popular and crowded since it’s been featured on the Travel Channel.

If you’ve been there and done that and want another local Italian joint Casa Di Amore is another good option.  The food was very good, but not the best ever.  The decor was nothing fancy, but everything was good and fun.  I’d rate this above average but not great.

NFL Conference Finals Picks

The Super Bowl is almost upon us and the Jets are still alive!  What a great playoff run.  We keep JMP’s picks going.  As you’ll see, fantasy football wrap ups continue next week.

Online Sports Betting at Sportsbook

NYJ @ IND (-7.5): The Colts were well on their way to covering a spread like this when they pulled most/all their starters and blew any chance at a perfect season.  I don’t think the Jets can keep this close.  It’s been a great ride, but it’s over.  Colts to cover.

MIN @ NO (-3.5): interesting line; I would’ve expected 3.  I really think the Vikes have a chance to win this.  NO hasn’t been able to stop the run well since Sedrick Ellis returned from injury and if their secondary isn’t getting picks, their pass D isn’t great either.  This should be a high scoring game that comes down to a FG, either way.  So that extra half-point is key.  I like the Vikes.

Back next week with WR rankings and then in 2 weeks with RB rankings and I guess I’ll pick the last game of the season too!

Last week: 1-4

Playoffs: 2-6

Wynn and Encore Win Me Over

Until my last trip to Las Vegas I only visited Wynn once and didn’t really enjoy it.  It felt like old money.  Cold and stuffy.  That feeling changed on my last trip.  My first night was spent enjoying a nice dinner at SW steakhouse.  The next night I gambled at both Wynn and Encore and had a visit to XS.

XS
Generally, I’m not a club guy but it’s always fun to check out a new spot.  I grabbed a drink and took a walk through XS and had a great time.  I can’t believe that people wait in lines half the night to get into clubs.  Thankfully, I know people and didn’t have to deal with the incredibly long lines.  We walked in and up the stairs into the club.  It was early (around 11pm) and they club was already packed with people drinking and dancing.

I took a walk around the perimeter of the club stopping at the bar for a moment before heading outside to have a waitress get a drink.  $14 for a Grey Goose & Soda feels like club prices to me.  One of the nice parts of XS is that the club is both inside and outside.  Being from the east coast, I didn’t feel cold outside like the locals.

After watching girls dancing on stages (some went commando) I looped around the club and headed out to gamble.  It was a nice quick trip through XS and I’m glad I took a spin.

After walking out of XS into the Encore casino my friends and I sat down at an empty $10 blackjack table.  It was a great spot – we were close to the drink station, close to a rest room and had a great view of clubbers leaving XS.

We played blackjack for about 4 or 5 hours and closed down the pit.  Everyone at the table had plenty of drinks and everyone at the table walked away with more money than they started with.  It was an impossible run.  Entire tables rarely win.  I think I finished up either $300.  The end of the night was fuzzy.  I was in the middle of the winners and I was happy for it.

This was a special night filled with tears of joy and vodka fueled laughter.  I had so much fun.  The dealers, pit bosses and cocktail waitresses were all fantastic.  I knew I had to start drinking water when I stopped at the urinal and took a picture of the antisplash above.  It’s the one photo I took that night and it’s the sole reminder of the laughs that night.

At Encore I learned that my earlier loss at switch blackjack (at Wynn the night before) was rare.  Evidently most people win at switch blackjack.  I’ll try switch again before I drink.  Unfortunately my gambling at Wynn was filled with losses and a small video poker victory.

My two nights at Wynn and Encore changed how I felt about Wynn.  I think the addition of Encore has added a little youth and energy to the complex that wasn’t there when Wynn first opened.

This is a good reason not to hold one visit against a casino/hotel forever – especially when hearing opposite impressions from others.  That’s something to keep in mind as CityCenter and Aria develop.

Fontainebleau To Icahn

Carl Icahn is the winner for the bankrupt Fontainbleau in Las Vegas.

Carl Icahn is expected to take over ownership of the bankrupt Fontainebleau Las Vegas resort after two potential competitors vying to buy the property failed to submit qualifying bids as of a 5 p.m. deadline Friday.

First things first.  I hope Carl Icahn unbrands the Fontainebleau name.  Second, I’ve mused about Icahn moving the Tropicana name over to the Fontainebleau project.  With the Tropicana going with a south beach theme it may make sense to switch brands with hotels as Fontainbleau was originally a Miami hotel icon.

Photo: Las Vegas Sun

SW Steakhouse Fantastic!

On my first night of this trip to Las Vegas I had dinner at SW Steakhouse at Wynn.  I went into this dinner with plenty of excitement based on feedback from others, but I had a little apprehension as well.

My only visit to Wynn wasn’t very fun as the casino felt stuffy and boring.  When I called to make reservations I was told that if anyone didn’t show for my reservation I would be charged $50 a person.  I felt somewhat threatened by this, but I understood why that policy might exist.  When I called back to adjust my reservation I was told that policy was never used.  Very nice.

When my friends and I walked in we were greeted with smiles and had a drink at the bar while we waited for a table.  I had a 9:30 reservation because I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to wash up and change after the Thursday night football game (which paid for dinner).  I’ve found that a late reservation can be hit or miss with food preparedness.  Dinner was a hit on this night and was the beginning of a turnaround on my feelings about Wynn.

Dinner started with fantastic bread that is baked fresh daily on the premises.  I don’t like to fill up on bread because I like to try as many different foods that come to the table, but it was difficult to stop eating.  I’m happy to say that I stopped at one piece.  Even though it was highly recommended I didn’t have a bacon cheddar muffin.  The bread was a great sign of what was to come.

The others at table shared a variety of seafood appetizers and they all seemed to like it.  I stuck with a Caesar salad that was excellent.  We each also had a slice of bacon.  I don’t think this is on the menu and it was damn good.  A nice salty way to move the evening forward.

I almost always get a NY strip when I’m at a steakhouse for the first time.  Because of the lack of fat strips are usually pretty easy to compare.

My strip was fantastic.  In fact, it was one of the best I’ve had in a while.  The steak was perfectly cooked.  There was a nice amount of char on the outside of the steak and the inside was soft and pink as I wanted.  I believe the steak was seasoned with just salt and pepper.  The salt stood out, but wasn’t overbearing and the meat tasted fantastic.

I don’t recall all of the sides ordered, but the photo above shows that we had parmesan creamed spinach.  I’m pretty sure that we also had the truffled creamed corn, butter roasted fingerling potatoes, and steamed asparagus.  All of the sides were excellent.

If there was a down part of the meal it was our choice of wine.  It didn’t have the body and full flavor I enjoy with steak.

SW Art(?)

One of the things you’ll read about Wynn is that their service goes above and beyond and the service at SW proved that to be true.  Service was fantastic.  We had two waiters that handled different parts of service and their work blended seamlessly.

Dinner at SW was fantastic and I would definitely go back again.  The food, the service and the vibe were all really good.

If you’re on twitter I recommend following WynnLasVegas for info and tips on dining and everything at Wynn.

Harrahs Takes Over Planet Hollywood This Weekend

That was quick.  Harrah’s begins management of Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas at midnight January 16.

In an internal memo to employees today, Planet Hollywood owner Robert Earl said things would be “business as usual” during the transition, though Harrah’s executives from neighboring Bally’s and Paris resorts will assume key roles at the property.

Sure, I’ve had issues with deal happening but I can’t stop it so it’s time for me to look at how I can benefit from Harrah’s taking over one of my favorite casinos on the strip.

First, business as usual sounds good to me.  My main curiosity is how Total Rewards will work be worked into Planet Hollywood.  I play at the east coast Harrah’s properties pretty often.  It will be interesting to see how my future trips to Las Vegas are effected, if at all, by this.

Seven Stars Insider: December – January Edition

I usually share the Seven Stars Insider when the newest edition arrives.  I lost this one over the holidays and am just getting to it now.  There is plenty of good information on Total Rewards.  This is a great, easy read if you frequent Harrah’s properties.

Question Of The Month

I earned 100,000 tier points shortly before the end of 2009 (and continued to earn more points through December 31), is it true that I will be designated Seven Stars through March 31, 2011, and get all the benefits for two “years”? Yes, if by “year” you mean the one ending March 31, 2010, and the other ending March 31, 2011.  As long as you complete your trip and celebration dinner, as well as order your annual gift by March 31, 2010, you can do it all again anytime between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2011.  And that’s in addition to all the other benefits connected with the blue and gray card.

Did You Attend The Signature Event In Atlantic City?

According to our October/November informal survey, the event was a real success – only a few minor quibbles (which is to be expected – you can’t please everyone).  Jerry Seinfeld got lots of raves, but Janice Dickinson didn’t fare as well.  “She was horrible,” one person wrote, “offering nothing.”  A sampling of other comments:

  • “I know there were complaints, but for me the fun and pleasure of it way outweighed the flaws that others complained about.  All in all I think they did a great job.”
  • “The event was definitely worth attending, although locals did get lost amidst the hubbub somewhat.”
  • “Some things were really well-handled, others got bungled.  Traffic management was hard – so many ‘heavy hitters,’ all, no doubt, with special needs.”
  • “There were a lot of nice touches (the taffy and peanuts welcome basket in the room, the notes every night about the next day’s schedule, etc.).”
  • “The ‘Dancing With The Stars’ thing [at Caesars] was kind of lackluster entertainment-wise, but the meal was good.”
  • “The welcome parties were waaay too crowded and the one at The Pier was particularly bad. . .and the food wasn’t that good or very substantial.”
  • “The welcome gift – crystal glasses – was not very practical for people who had to fly home.”
  • “The $50 food coupons should have been good any day of the weekend.  As it happens, they were only for days when they were already feeding us big time at an event.  How much can you eat in one day?  I would have liked to use the coupons on Sunday or Monday, but they were not good on those days.”
  • “I was disappointed that those arriving on Friday (me!) didn’t get their [free] slot play. . .didn’t seem fair.”
  • “Spa appointments were impossible to get, but it was good that the spa coupon was redeemable for merchandise (so I actually did get to use that one).”
  • “The fashion show (at least the spillover event at Bally’s I attended) was kind of a bust.  The meal was good, but the host – last year’s ‘Project Runway’ winner – wasn’t very comfortable in front of an audience.”

Seven Stars Club At Harrah’s Atlantic City Temporarily Closes Prior To Christmas Many Seven Stars members were surprised – and irritated – to find the club closed for a couple weeks in December, just as it was last year.  The same with the Diamond Lounges at Caesars, Harrah’s and Showboat.  [Bally’s Lounge operated on a limited schedule to help pick up the slack.]  As one reader wrote, “Just one more thing Harrah’s had to do to p***-off its best customers.”  How nice if Harrah’s had taken a cue from the Borgata in Atlantic City.  A couple years ago while it was expanding its Amphora Lounge – the equivalent of a Diamond Lounge, but with far better food and decor, it offered its Black Card players [a category similar to Diamond] complimentary cocktails and wine in its B Bar, as well as complimentary cocktails and wine to accompany meals at the buffet.  All you had to do was show your player’s card and an ID.  Though at the bufet there was a $10 per person comp charge levied, and it was limited to the player and one guest, it was a great benefit.  Even today, the Borgata offers its buffet – breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch any day of the week – for 10 comp dollars per person, again limited to the player and one guest.  And it’s still the best buffet – and with the classiest surroundings – in town.  [Unlike the Diamond Lounges and Seven Stars Clubs, the Amphora lounge levies a $10 per person comp charge, and is limited to the player and one guest.  Titanium cardholders – similar to Seven Stars – do not have similar restrictions.]

Special Seven Stars Self-Parking Benefits – An Update

In addition to the special Seven Stars dedicated parking on the seventh floor of Caesars in Atlantic City, each of the other Harrah’s properties has a special Seven Stars (and Diamond) express lane when you leave the self-parking lot (Caesars, Harrah’s and Bally’s) or at Showboat when you enter.  Several readers noted that Harrah’s Chester [Pennsylvania] has a specially-designated Seven Stars parking area on the third floor, but you need to display a special hangtag from your rear-view mirror; however, because the area is not monitored and no one enforces the restrictions, it’s really not much of a benefit.  Several informal “walk-throughs” of the area showed none of the cars or trucks parked there had the aforementioned hangtags, and neither did many of the other vehicles on the floor.  [The entire floor is supposed to be reserved solely for Seven Stars and Diamond players.]  Until Chester invests in a card-operated gate system like Caesars in Atlantic City or Windsor, Ontario, there are always going to be those who abuse the system.  Harrah’s in Reno has the same problem.

Harrah’s & Planet Hollywood

According to several reliable sources, Harrah’s Entertainment is moving forward on their much rumored takeover of the financially troubled Planet Hollywood resort and casino in Las Vegas.  The company filed papers with the Nevada Gaming Control Board that would give it permission to acquire the property.  The filing will now work its way through various regulatory agencies.  “Experts” anticipate a mid- to late-2010 completion of the process.  One columnist wrote, “The hotel will most likely keep the Planet Hollywood name but would get folded into Harrah’s very popular Total Rewards players’ club program.”

Continue reading “Seven Stars Insider: December – January Edition”

Room Service!

Rooming alone and not being able to sleep normal hours leads to a lot of things.  In this case, it lead me to ordering room service a couple of times when I stayed at Palazzo.

I enjoyed both breakfast and lunch in my room.  A couple of general notes about room service.  Both meals were delivered in less than 30 minutes and were both hot.  The servers were both very cordial and set everything up pretty quickly in the dining area.

BREAKFAST


I ordered a very simple breakfast one morning:  Scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, orange juice and coffee.

As I mentioned in my coffee blog the brew was Starbucks and tasted fine enough for me to finish off the pot.  I don’t drink orange juice very often but I was in the mood for it and it was perfect for the morning.  It wasn’t the best OJ I’ve had, but it was above average.

Scrambled eggs are not always the easiest thing to have prepared for room service since they get cold quickly and can easily be cooked too much or too little.  These eggs were on point and still warm.  I was very happy about this.  The bacon was nice and crisp which made me very happy.  I’m not a big home fry guy and I don’t even remember them.  I had sourdough toast which was luke warm, but tasty.  I find that sourdough is always better out west then back east.

Overall, breakfast was excellent, but unspectacular and I’m fine with that.

LUNCH

I was beat up one morning and afternoon and needed to sit in the room, breathe and eat some greasy food.  I also gave a light hair of the dog beer a chance to fix me and it worked.  My lunch order was simple:

Bacon Cheeseburger (cheddar cheese), french fries and Coors light.  As you see above the burger was accompanied by a handful of onion rings, veggies and condiments.

The food was still warm when it arrived and the beer was on ice so it was obviously cold.  Much like scrambled eggs, it’s easy to over or under cook and mess up a room service burger.  Thankfully my burger was prepared medium as I asked for it.  Much like the breakfast the bacon was crisp and tasty.

I ate pretty slowly and only nibbled on the fries and onion rings.  Both were starting to get cold when I got around to them, but tasted fine.  Again, nothing spectacular but everything was good.

The real winner of my room service lunch was the Coors Light!  All in all lunch was perfect and got me settled and up and out of the room.

Unlike my trip to Caesars in Atlantic City mid last year there was nothing spectacular about my room service orders but everything was good and warm and did the job.  I would not be afraid to order room service at Palazzo again in the future.  That’s good for a lazy guy that likes to drink too much sometimes.