A December 2005 trip
to Las Vegas by funrun_9602
Quote: I did my research ahead of time to make sure I'd get the most out of my money. Here I will pass on to you what I did, for how much, and what I won't do the next time I go to Vegas.
Possibly my worst mistake was putting fashion before comfort — be sure to wear your most comfortable walking shoes, even if they don't really match your outfit! If you plan to be out your first night, I strongly suggest an after dinner nap. (Trust me, you'll be groggy if you don't). My last regret was not researching good places to eat breakfast after 11am; I had a misconception that breakfast would be served all day in Vegas!
Hotel | "Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino"
I am pretty sure we got a normal room, but it was HUGE (about 600 square feet). That's the size of my apartment! There was enough empty space to do a cartwheel in the middle. In the entryway, you are greeted with a mini fridge. As you step into the room, your eyes are drawn to the main wall, consisting of all floor-to-ceiling windows with a 180-degree view of the mountains. There was a large, velvety chaise couch sectional on one side and a king bed on the other side. The bathroom had several sections: one closed room with shower/ tub, toilet, sink, and mirrors, one open area with another sink, and a make-up area with a chair, shelves, and a closet with mirrored sliding doors. All the bathroom shelves and sink area were done in a solid dark wood, and the floor was stone tile. The shower was unique, with two parrot releifs sculpted into the walls (to fit the Rio theme) and a porthole window looking out over the bed and through the expansive windows. Overall, the room was very upscale from the usual (non-Vegas) hotel room.
I have no real complaints about the Rio, except that it is not located on the Strip. Some people will not mind this, but my next stay will be somewhere on the Strip to save us $8 every time we need a late night taxi. There is a free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes between Rio and Harrah's on the Strip, but the last one leaves Harrah's at 1AM, and overall its just a hassle to walk to the shuttle location in back of the hotel, wait around up to 15 minutes for it to pick you up, then drive for 10-15 min., and then walk through Harrah's to get onto the Strip. The total amount of time to get from your Rio room to the sidewalk on the Strip could be anywhere from 20-60 minutes; thus, its difficult to be anywhere at a certain time, and your feet are already getting a workout before you get anywhere.
Overall, other aspects of Rio don't provide extra-compelling reasons to stay here. We were here Thursday through Saturday, and gambling table game minimums started at $10. See my separate entries on Voodoo Lounge, Club Rio, Carnival World Buffet, and San Paulo Cafe (the food here wasn't the best we had in Vegas).
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 20, 2004
Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino
3700 W Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89103
Restaurant | "Rio Hotel Carnival World Buffet"
For breakfast, I tried bacon, mini Belgian waffles, and mini pancakes. The waffles and pancakes were bland, but the bacon’s flavor was delicious, though not as crisp as I prefer. My boyfriend thought the breakfast food wasn't as bad as I thought, and he really liked his omelette. There were breakfast pastries, breads, eggs, pancakes, waffles, crepes, and made-to-order omelettes.
For lunch, there were foods from around the world--sushi, Asian noodles, create-your-own stir-fry, beef, sausage, pizza, and tacos. For dessert, there were various flavors of pies, custards, cookies, gelato, and sugar-free desserts. There was also a full bar for an extra price, of course. Our favorite foods were the kielbasa, roast beef, tiramisu in chocolate cups, and chocolate gelato.
Breakfast $12.99 plus tax, 7am-11am Mon-Fri, 7:30am-10:30am Sat-Sun
Lunch $14.99 plus tax, 11am-3:30pm Mon-Fri
Dinner $22.99 plus tax, 3:30pm-10pm Nightly
Saturday & Sunday Champagne Brunch $22.99 plus tax, 10:30am-3:30pm
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 20, 2004
Carnival World Buffet
3700 West Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89103
I ate here for breakfast because it is the only place in the Rio where breakfast is served after 11am. I had the tall stack of pancakes for $8. It was a stack of six large pancakes that were fairly tasty. There weren't many items on the breakfast menu, but it covered the main bases: eggs, pancakes, waffles, fruit, and oatmeal. They also served Starbucks drinks.
Overall, this place isn't anything special, and I am sure there are better breakfasts elsewhere in Vegas, although I thought this was tastier and a better value than the Rio breakfast buffet I had had the morning before. The decor is very bland and reminiscent of a mom’n’pop restaurant. If you are staying at the Rio, Sao Paulo Cafe isn't a bad breakfast choice, but you can do better at a different hotel.
The restaurant was a bit hard to find; follow signs closely - it’s sorta behind the Rio Box Office and Samba Theater. Worth noting: Some signs in the hotel say this place is open 24 hours, and two other signs gave different times, like 10pm and 4pm. The employees I asked didn't know either, so who knows!?
Sao Paulo Cafe
3700 W. Flamingo Ave.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89103
Restaurant | "The Bellagio Buffet"
Think "Bellagio opulence," and then think "Vegas buffet." The two images don’t go together, do they?
Well, technically, this is a buffet in Las Vegas, but before you vomit at that thought, get that image out of your head, because The Bellagio Buffet is more appropriately described as "fine dining, self-served." You will never find a $7.99 prime rib dinner here. Actually, forget prime rib—that’s not good enough for the Bellagio—instead, try the world’s most tender and expensive meat, Kobe beef, or perhaps some rack of lamb, free-range turkey, or beef Wellington.
These most expensive foods are only available for the Gourmet Buffet on Fridays and Saturdays. For $33.95 per person, you can eat more worth that that just in pre-cracked Alaskan King Crab Legs. Note: don’t plan on comfortably walking anywhere after this meal!
My boyfriend and I went right before dinner on a Friday, when the waiting line hadn’t started forming yet. We were almost turned off by the steep price because the first sign we saw advertised the dinner at $25. At our hesitation, the employees gladly let us check out the food before we decided to pay. One glance at the crab legs was all the convincing we needed! I have serious doubts that anyone could find better-tasting fine foods, at such a variety, for this much money, anywhere else in the world. If Vegas didn’t have so many other restaurants to sample, I would just eat every meal here.
A sampling of the food that I remember:
-Seafood included various preparations of jumbo shrimp, oysters, scallops, mussels, swordfish, and many other fishes. Our favorite seafood dish was a shrimp/oyster/scallop combination in a garlic butter broth.
-Pizza flavors included four-cheese, Hawaiian, chicken/bacon/cheddar, seafood, cheese, pepperoni, and mushroom, respectively. The thin crust, texture, and flavor made for some of the best pizzas I've ever had. (If a picky eater doesn’t want to try all the fancy foods, at least he or she can have a really good cheese pizza).
-Large selection of exotic cheeses and unique hors d'oeuvres. Not my kind of food.
-A whole section devoted to various sushi rolls, Asian noodles, and stir-frys. Not so great for low-carb diets.
-Fruit/salad bar with Caesar and two other unusual types of salad. I tried the Caesar, but it seemed to have finely crushed nuts in it, which ruined it for me.
-The desserts were all artistically presented. My favorites were a dessert cup layered with chocolate truffle, chocolate mousse, and whipped cream, and the chocolate raspberry truffle pie.
The Bellagio Buffet has no dress code. The attire spans the gamut from casual street clothes to brides still in their wedding gowns. I doubt reservations are accepted, because a long line had formed by the time we left. No matter how small your Las Vegas budget is, every trip to Las Vegas should include at least one meal at The Bellagio Buffet.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 20, 2004
3600 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Restaurant | "Cafe Lago (restaurant and buffet)"
I had á la carte Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, and my boyfriend had French toast with powdered sugar. Both meals were $12. My Belgian waffle was perfectly cooked, but very bland-tasting, and the strawberries weren't even a shade of red, so I didn't bother eating them. Luckily for me, my boyfriend wasn't feeling well enough to eat more than half of his three slices of French toast, and they were absolutely delicious. I also had a bottomless wineglass of 100% orange juice for $4 (was full of pulp though). The other menu items weren't cheap either; of particular note was half a grapefruit for $3. Give me a break--a whole grapefruit is only $0.89!
The decor was extremely modern and upscale. The entry area had an impressive, large blue-tiled wall with water flowing down it. The flowing water sound makes a very nice ambience. The restaurant had a wall of two-story windows overlooking the pool area. The tabletops were a very interesting Caesarstone white with multicolored chips of quartz speckled throughout, which created a colorful confetti look. The lamps and chandeliers were also very unique. For an hour, David Osborne played a baby grand piano, accompanied by a cellist. This made the ambience feel semi-romantic, but the bright daylight and modern decor didn't enhance that feeling.
Overall, we were just happy to find breakfast being served during lunch, which is a lot harder to find than I thought it would be in Vegas. It was the best breakfast I had in Vegas, but that isn't really saying much. Next time I go to Vegas, I am probably going to try new places for breakfast.
Caesars Palace Lago Buffet
3570 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Restaurant | "Il Fornario"
Il Fornario offers fine dining in an authentic Italian style. To start with, rosemary, ciabatta, and Italian bread are baked fresh every morning and served to you with dipping oil. The bread was tasty; however, part of the connotation of fresh-baked bread is eating it warm, but this bread was actually colder than room temperature.
Our entrée prices were $17 for chicken parmigiano and $23 for fish. Both of us thought the food was very tasty. My chicken parmigiano was absolutely huge compared to the amount of fish my boyfriend got. For mine, it seemed like they pounded two large chicken breasts until they were flat. The breading was nice and light, and their homemade tomato sauce was very rich and tomatoey. Both entrées came with a side of vegetables, and I recall them being tasty, but the chicken was better, so I focused on that until I couldn't eat anymore.
The restaurant is situated right off the main casino floor near a bumbling stream. There was a bar "inside," but we chose to eat alfresco, next to the stream, so we could people-watch. It was almost a romantic atmosphere, except for the loud people who were obviously winning big over at the craps table.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 21, 2004
Il Fornario at New York-New York
3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada
The Highly Recommended Part:
I had caught a glimpse of an interesting-looking chocolate sculpture on the dessert tray earlier, so I ordered it. It turned out to be more than one cup of perfect textured, delicious chocolate mousse wrapped inside an edible chocolate pouch that was actually flexible enough to be unfolded without breaking. This flexible chocolate had me very intrigued, so I asked the server how they do that, but he didn't know--if anyone finds out, please message me! This was the best dessert I had in Vegas, and the flexible chocolate made for the most interesting plate presentation.
The most entertaining thing about the alfresco dining here is watching the looks on passersby faces when they realized that the statue a few feet from our table was actually a live person! I also witnessed a marriage proposal in front of this statue. On a more generalized note, the air quality in the Grand Canal Shoppes was very stuffy, and the lighting and Venetian storefronts looked very fake compared to the other casino’s streetscape shopping environments. The air bothered my slightly asthmatic boyfriend, so much that he had to get fresh air outside and missed the best part--dessert.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 27, 2004
3355 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Blah, there’s nothing special here. I went to Club Rio with my boyfriend on a Friday during the slowest week of the year (before Christmas). We went at about 12:45 to 1:30am, and it was pretty boring because not even half of the dance floor was filled. I was annoyed at the two hired girls dancing on the podiums because they weren't very good dancers, and the DJ was very typical, you know, the kind that can't mix from one song into the next. The music was Top 40, very typical of any club. The crowd (if you could call it that) seemed to mostly be in the 18 to 21 age group.
Overall, Club Rio just didn't have its own ambience like everything else in Vegas does. There just wasn't anything about it that made us want to our spend time or money there. It felt like we could get a club experience like this almost anywhere in the US.
The positive was the floor layout, ideal for a club. It’s a circular room with three stepped outer rings (with tables and chairs open to everyone) looking down on the dance floor in the center. The DJ is up on a stage to one side of the room, mirrored by a bar on the opposite side. Video screens all around the outer walls project shadowy images of their bad dancer girls. The drink prices weren't bad, either. Maybe it was just the time of year we went, but I would rather explore other places than back to Club Rio again.
Open at 11pm Thursday and 11:30pm Friday and Saturday in the Scinta Showroom. Call 702/777-7977.
3700 West Flamingo Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89102
+1 702 777 7777
Attraction | "Voodoo Lounge"
The cover price seemed pretty steep to us (and totally unfair to guys), but Voodoo Lounge's location on the top floor of the towering off-strip Rio Hotel & Casino provides about a 280-degree view of the Strip and the rest of Vegas. This awesome view is almost worth the cover price in and of itself! All the casinos look so amazing when you can see them all lit up in one view, and the lights of Las Vegas houses extend far out into the blackness of the desert.
My boyfriend and I went on a Friday during the slowest week of the year (before Christmas) from 12 to 12:45am. There were lots of people, but they were mostly older adults in dressier attire (with some ladies in evening gowns), whereas Club Rio downstairs had more of the 18 to 21 crowd.
Voodoo Lounge has a separate martini bar and a full bar both inside and outside on the patio. Inside a live band was playing rock cover songs I've heard played at many other bars in the US, but they were a pretty good band. There were lots of tables and couches open to everyone but almost all were filled.
Outside on the patio was a DJ spinning Top 40 dance songs much better than the Club Rio DJ. It was a chilly night, but they had several heaters on the patio so that you could stay outside and enjoy the awesome night view while dancing. There was also a hired girl dancing on a short podium on the patio right near the edge. It was interesting to watch her because the lit-up night skyline of the Strip created a very unique backdrop, almost scary. Although, if you are afraid of anything falling over the edge, don't worry - there is a wider patio one floor down to catch any falling drinks, cameras, people, etc. (Read: No suicidal leaps possible).
Voodoo Lounge is definitely worth spending a whole night at, but since it was our first stop of the night, we didn't stay very long. If you are staying at the Rio and are planning to stay out past 1am, then I highly recommend Voodoo Lounge so you don't have to pay for a cab ride back to Rio (the last free shuttle trip from Harrah's leaves at 1am.)
It opens at 5pm, with live music and dancing starting at 9pm nightly.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 20, 2004
VooDoo Rooftop Nightclub at Rio
3700 W Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89103
Attraction | "Fountains of Bellagio"
The fountains consist of hundreds of individual shoots of water, some of which can go about 15 stories in the air, close to the height of the Bellagio itself. The water really appears to wave and dance exactly on beat to the music. Each shoot of water can do different things at different times. The deep whooshing sound of the water pressure pumps and the sound of the water hitting the pool from such heights really enhance the music like I never would have thought before seeing it in person. The show is best at night, when each water shoot has lights of changing brightness that further enhance the music.
The Bellagio uses about 24 classical and opera-type songs that play randomly; during December, they mix in holiday songs. They play one song for each show, which starts very promptly on time. Here is the schedule:
3-7pm: every hour and half-hour
7pm-1am: every quarter-hour
Saturday and Sunday
12-7pm: every hour and half-hour
7pm-12am: every quarter-hour
The fountain pool is much larger than I imagined it, and the fountains are further away than I thought. When you are standing in front-center, you really can't see the entire fountain show in your field of view without turning your head back and forth. You can see the whole show if you stand at the ends, but then the far side is likely to be blocked from view during parts of the show. The front sidewalk has several half-circle-shaped balconies that stick out over the water. The best viewing angles I found are from the second balconies on either end, or from behind the left side of the fountain, on the sidewalk that follows the front drive to the carport entrance of the hotel. From this back sidewalk, you also get to look slightly down on the fountains.
Even though you wouldn't get to hear the music, I bet other great views would be from one of the hotel rooms in Bellagio, Paris, or even Flamingo. I would also love to see a show at night from the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris, across the street.
3600 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada
Attraction | "The Volcano at The Mirage"
From The Mirage:
Every fifteen minutes from 7pm to midnight, the earth shakes and flames shoot into the night sky, spewing smoke and fire 100 feet above the waters below, transforming a tranquil waterfall into spectacular streams of molten lava.
The volcano at The Mirage has been a Las Vegas signature attraction since the resort opened in 1989, mesmerizing spectators with it thunderous, fiery display. The volcano, situated on three water-covered acres, is 54 feet high and circulates 119,000 gallons of water per minute.
The show is free to the public. The show may be cancelled during times of high winds or inclement weather.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on December 27, 2004
Mirage Hotel and Casino
3400 South Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Attraction | "Fall of Atlantis and Festival Fountain"
Fall of Atlantis & Festival Fountain
Caesar's Palace / 3570 Las Vegas Blvd., S
Las Vegas, Nevada
Attraction | "The Venetian"
When you enter the shops through the front door, the size and detail in the ceiling paintings is absolutely breathtaking (see photo). The front carport of the hotel has an equally grand ceiling. All the decor mimics things that are actually in Venice; my sister, who has been to the real Venice, immediately recognized the things in my Las Vegas Venetian photos. I also love the flooring here; it is a bunch of intersecting cubes that I think is better than the ugly, large floral motifs on most casino floors. Domes with oculars (circular skylights), chandeliers, and forced-perspective murals are scattered throughout the Venetian.
The way the Grand Canal Shoppes are built around both sides of the canal, with occasional bridges crossing over and restaurants with decks, does make you feel like you are walking through old Italian streets. The strolling street performers and living statues also add to the atmosphere.
The singing gondola rides do seem romantic and add to the overall atmosphere, but the indoor ones are $13 per person and outside in the canal, in front of the hotel, they are $12.50 each. I was disappointed in the short length of the canals, so I decided that the price wasn't worth it.
The air in the Venetian was very stuffy and unbearable for my slightly asthmatic boyfriend, so we will never spend the night here. The lighting in the Grand Canal Shoppes is also a very odd color that doesn't look like normal indoor or outdoor light; it enhances the fakeness of the store facades that are maybe lacking in the realistic detail that Caesar's and Paris have. The blue color of the canals is also extremely bright and fake-looking. I really felt like the combo of stuffy air, odd lighting, and fake facades and water prevented me from temporarily suspending the reality that I was indoors in Las Vegas.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 27, 2004
Venetian Resort Hotel Casino
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
Attraction | "Studio 54 - Dollhouse night"
The layout was unique to me; there was a central raised dance floor flanked by two dance floor balconies above. The second floor had a VIP lounge area and bar along the perimeter of the room and a separate open lounge area. We spent most of our time here, since we almost had the lounge to ourselves. It has its own bar next to very comfy couches whose central focus was a small parquet-wood dance floor with blinking white lights built into the floor. In the darkness, this created the appearance of a floor of hovering lights. Complete with disco ball, dedicated dance lights, and different music than downstairs, this is the ideal spot to show off your moon-walking and floor-spinning dance moves without injuring others.
Dollhouse is a new concept; it's a wonder that other places haven't thought of it yet! At midnight there are about three guys and three girls dressed in flesh-toned, skintight suits that put on a trapeze acrobatic introduction of the Dollhouse concept: Club-goers go to the Dollhouse in the back of the club, pick a person to play dress-up with, tell them what costume to wear (i.e. naughty nurse, bad schoolgirl, dirty maid, policeman, etc.), and "help" them get dressed. We didn't partake in the dress-up, but I noted that when the "dolls" were later dancing on the podiums, they were no longer wearing the skintight suits under the costumes.
Tuesday night is "Eden Night". They are calling for all members of the entertainment industry to party here on Tuesdays. Sounds interesting! Ladies free all night, local men half price with ID.
General Info: 1-702-891-7254
Table Reservations: 1-702-891-7246
No one under 21 allowed
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 3, 2005
3799 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
+1 702 891 1111; +1
Hotel | "The Bellagio"
From the moment you approach the Bellagio, the grand fountains in front foreshadow what you are about to experience (see my separate entry about them). Driving up to the front doors, the entrance is hidden from the Strip by lush vegetation, giving it a private feel. As you walk to the front doors, you may notice that the floor has giant cracks winding through the tile, mimicking old vines. When you walk through the impressive, VERY HEAVY, solid wood doors, your breath is almost taken away by the beautiful, raised-tray ceiling overflowing with large, brightly colored, hand-blown glass funnels. Conveniently located on your immediate left is the hotel front desk (no walking through a casino, wondering where it is!), and a huge atrium behind the desk gives you a sample of the Botanical Gardens awaiting you further inside. The Botanical Gardens are FILLED with fresh flowers that are completely different every season. When we were there in December, giant polar bears were made out of white carnations. Notice that at this point, you have seen many sights inside the hotel but haven't even heard or seen a casino!
In separate wings are the shops and casino. The shops of Bellagio were way out of my price range, but I enjoyed walking through them more than other expensive shops, because they seemed to be the only ones where natural light actually pours in through beautiful tunnel-like skylights, instead of the usual painted clouds.
The casino in the Bellagio was also my favorite one for ambiance, decor, and variety of table games; however, I don't recommend gambling here if you are trying to stretch your money. I had to scour the entire floor to find a single hidden blackjack table with a $10 minimum; the rest were $15 and up to about $500. I think the décor’s golden tones feel very regal and cozy—just imagine, a casino can feel cozy! The Bellagio casino often hosts the World Poker Tour, and anyone can pay ($1,000) to play, or just stand by and watch the TV drama for free.
The food at the Bellagio is the best we had in Vegas and equal to the best food I’ve had in my life. (Read about the Bellagio gourmet buffet in my separate entry). For a fancy, expensive meal, I want to try the Picasso restaurant sometime, where you dine with real Picasso paintings. I would also like to check out the Bellagio’s Fine Art Museum ($12 adult admission) and watch their water-infused Cirque du Soleil show, "O".
3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
1. Determine what you really want to do in Vegas and roughly prioritize these activities.
-eat really good food at non-franchise restaurants
-stay in a hotel room that will make me FEEL like a big spender
-experience some happening nightlife
-see the free attractions
-check out all the main hotels
2. Research prices and their fluctuations to learn when an activity costs less than normal.
-The most off-peak time of the year: the 10 days before Christmas. Peak times: Christmas to New Year’s Day, Evander Holifield fights, and the September-to-October convention season.
-Be patient until you find a deal on your hotel room and airfare (usually cheapest 2 to 3 months before travel). Look for great deals in exchange for attending timeshare sales presentations.
-Save money by not renting a car and using the free and cheap shuttles. However, if you stay off-strip, be prepared to spend about $8 each time you need a late-night taxi ride, because some free shuttles only operate till about midnight.
-Find restaurants with the type of food at the prices you want to pay– don’t forget breakfast like I did!
-For nightlife, cover prices, music genres, and activities vary by the day of the week. For instance, Studio 54 only does their Dollhouse on Thursdays and Club Rio has Latino night on Thursdays and Top 40 on Fridays. Research to find out which night is best for you!
3. Learn how to play the table games and your odds of winning—before you go to Vegas.
-Play games that take more time. This strategy keeps your money in your pocket longer.
-Play off the Strip. Most of the Strip hotels have higher table minimums than smaller casinos, and downtown, the difference is about $10 vs. $3.
-Sign up for comp cards before you gamble. You might get freebies for signing up and you will get freebies the more you play.
-Know when to stop gambling—at least for a little while. If you get ahead, stop playing for a few hours and enjoy the euphoria of being richer. Also, if you aren't having fun (i.e. the atmosphere is stuffy or your table mates are too rowdy), walk away for awhile and try again later.
How I won:
-I went to the Travel Channel's "Best Place to Strike It Rich," the Casino Royale, right on the Strip next to Harrah's. I did 90% of my gambling here, and with proper blackjack strategy and a bit of luck, I about doubled my money over a few hours of play. However, I more than doubled my money at the $10 minimum tables at Bellagio in 10 minutes.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do, where you can pinch pennies, and how to gamble with the proper strategy, you’ll be able to get the most out of your money, too!
Good Vegas Research Resources:
Travel Channel Viva Las Vegas
The Official Vegas Travel Site