A Las Vegas diary… the group returns in 2008
8 days in Nevada and Arizona…
The Best of Vegas 2008


After assembling all of the details, here are the results of our 2008 group evaluation of the April trip to Las Vegas. You know it… you love it… you’ve been dying to see it... the article that features the very best thoughts and experiences from our trip.

I’m kicking it off with some comparisons to our previous Las Vegas tour diary… December of 2004.

The Fairfield Grand Desert Resort was the location we stayed at last time. Now… of the “worst” items from that trip, we really didn’t visit any of them this time. But, I was wondering about your comments on the Grandview (as compared to the Fairfield).

Bob: (So… do you think I asked this question because I have a story?) We booked two suites… each for a week. But, we were staying for eight nights. That meant for two of our nights... the first and the last... we would only have one unit. Easy enough to solve, with each couple planning to take the pull-out sofa-bed for an evening, and the group just switching from one unit to start into the other unit to finish. Terry and I got the pull-out bed first.

We woke up after that first night and Ellen asked us if we were able to get any sleep with all of the noise.

Noise? We hadn’t heard any amazingly different, annoying, loud, peculiar or describe-it-any-other-way-that-would-indicate-a-sleep-depriving noise.

We would later learn… and you can check the tour diary of days 1 and 2 for more… they were building right next to where we were staying. No walls on that building, but all of the ducts… air conditioning and such… were installed. And those things created a magnificent wind tunnel that moaned and groaned and sounded like the world was crashing down. Only… for some reason… you could hear it in the bedroom of the unit, but not in the living room.

So… the old Fairfield from 2004. Phone problems… thermostat problems… two fires! No… in comparison… the Grandview was fine. It was conveniently located (provided you had a rental car… no real shuttle service that we found, and there it is standing a few miles down the strip from the real action), and for the most part it was clean and nice. That said… the pool wasn’t open, and we never got return calls on any questions we asked where someone promised they would call us back. Ellen and Richard did get a call to let them know they missed the meeting that they never were told had been scheduled. (Actually, that message about the meeting that didn’t exist was left with us.)

Let’s say this… I would stay at the Grandview again. I don’t see myself getting excited at all about a trip to the Fairfield.

Terry: Loved it. Very spacious. Loved that it had a casino next door with a movie theater and bowling alley!!!

Ellen: I was not happy initially because I was not getting any sleep or the help I needed to change the room. I’d ask, they’d tell us they were looking into it, and then the promised return call would never come. But after the wind died down... all was good. The unit itself was nice and having the casino next door was good... my only complaint now would be for them to get some activities geared towards adults and a shuttle service.

Richard: Other than the wind tunnel all was well.

Were there any dealers that you found memorable?

Bob: I have to say something funny about this, because there were really no memorable dealers this time. Many were fun… but none in that rarified air of beyond brilliant or noteworthy for this kind of consideration.

So… my funny thought… I can’t believe the prices at the tables during this trip. Maybe it was where we went… maybe it’s this recession thing that most of the time doesn’t seem possible (look… visit Las Vegas, see the crowds all over, and tell me alot of people don’t have disposable cash… I dare you)… whatever. But last time we struggled to find tables under $10-$15 a hand. This time… $5 tables were pretty common.

And yet… I can think of three or four names of dealers from our previous trip without looking them up. This time? There were some good ones and some fun ones… but not truly special ones.

Terry: No.

Ellen: When we all played blackjack together. That was fun.

(Note: Ellen wasn’t sure of the place or the name… but we talked about it later and figure she means when we were at Bellagio, and we had a pair of dealers named Sandy and Sylvia. She’s right though… we took over the whole table, played together for a while… and one of the ladies was a bit more fun than the other but I can’t recall who that was. We also played blackjack at Binion’s together with a dealer named Sue and all four of us took over the table. However… and we all agree… it was the experience of goofing around together and not necessarily the dealers that made these moments great.)

Richard: No.

Waitresses, waiters or beverage servers?

Bob: Karen at the Diamond Creek Restaurant in Peach Springs was alot of fun to be around. We had a good time at that restaurant and some nice conversations with her. Stephanie at the Harley Davidson Café treated us very well too. Other than that… not really.

Terry: No

Ellen: No

Richard: No, I did not see any exceptional boobs.

(Note: Richard may have one of the easiest… as well as consistent… rating systems ever devised. Any wonder why traveling with him is a pleasure?)

We visited a few places again. Give some quick thoughts on the Harley Davidson Café, Fiamma, Battista’s, and the Bellagio Conservatory.

Bob: Once again, the Harley Davidson Café didn’t disappoint. I wasn’t as awestruck by it as I was last time (when it took me by surprise with a great atmosphere, friendly people, and a solid menu of outstanding food), but the food was good once again and everything was fun. Fiamma… wow… it was very good, but last time I had to pick myself up off of the floor after eating there because it was just an amazing experience all around. This time… really great… want to go again… a couple of dishes I would easily order again… but it didn’t come close to the first visit. (And, admittedly, some of that had to do with a waiter that wanted us to buy a crystal bottle of scotch for a few hundred bucks.) Battista’s… hold on a second… let me get back to Battista’s. The Bellagio Conservatory was gorgeous. Essentially a spring theme with live butterflies. I will stop in that place every time I am in Vegas… no doubt about it, it’s a must-do.

Ok… Battista’s. We got there, and two tables seated after us had stuff arriving before our waitress had even identified herself. One of the people working there asked where we were from… we said Rhode Island… and he began talking about Vinny Pazienza. (Now… I really, really can’t stand Vinny Pazienza. (And a funny “you’d have to be a local to know this” secret… no one in Rhode Island can stand him.) So here was this sweet guy, talking and talking… and talking… in such glowing terms, on and on, about Vinny Pazienza… and my mind just kept repeating “please go away… please go away… please go away… please… go…”) That pretty much sums up the whole visit. They were quick to take our money in the end… but no one was rushing to offer apologies for the drinks they spilled on Ellen and Richard. Kind of a shame… we all were hoping for more from the place.

Terry: Battista’s was disappointing. I remember bigger portions last time. Harley Davidson was as I remembered. Very good! Fiamma’s was excellent once again. Bellagio was even better than last time since we ate there and got a grand tour from Boris.

Ellen: My mac & cheese was good at HDC... other than that... just your average chain restaurant. Fiamma's was excellent except for the pushy waiter. Battista's was a big disappointment and I think I'm through with them unless I can't afford anything else. The Bellagio tour was beautiful and so was the Conservatory... although not as spectacular as it had been when we visited for the Christmas season.

Richard: HDC – Ok. Fiamma – Excellent. Battista's – Disappointing and not what it had been. Bellagio – Really nice.

So there you go… the comparison to last time and a few glimpses of what is ahead for you here… the best and worst list for the 2008 trip to Las Vegas…

This group of four has now seen four different Cirque du Soleil shows together… La Nouba in Orlando (Disney World) in 1999… and then three here in Las Vegas, Mystere (Treasure Island) in 2004, and O (Bellagio) and Love (Mirage) in 2008. Do you have a favorite?

Bob: No… I don’t have a favorite. My recommendation would be to skip Mystere… because it was fine, but that one just doesn’t even approach the other three. I loved La Nouba when we saw it… brilliant show. O was a great performance. I was pleasantly surprised by that one. Now… Love. I am a huge Beatles fan. I can’t say enough about their music. So I went to this show, having listened to the soundtrack, and having seen the making-of special… and I was ready to be knocked silly. I wasn’t. Probably because my expectations were off-the-chart high. Probably because I thought it would put all of them to shame before I even got on the plane to leave for Vegas. It was fantastic… it was fun… it was at times breathtaking and at others dazzling. But I felt the same way about both La Nouba and O. I enjoyed all three of those shows equally and would recommend any of them without hesitation. In fact, I wouldn’t mind going to see all of them again. But I can’t say I have a clear favorite. (Ok… forget all that… I will say it… O was the best of all of them.)

Terry: Yes, definitely LOVE!!!

Ellen: Hands down... Love. I love the Beatles music and I thought all the costumes were fantastic. I think I was more amazed by the water feature than the actual O show but it was still great.

Richard: Love was very good, but I liked O better.

What were your favorite things that we did on this trip?

Bob: The drive along Route 66 as we headed to the Grand Canyon. It felt different… somehow special… in an unspoken way where you just know you’re doing something pretty neat. We saw a California condor along that road. The food was unexpectedly tremendous at the restaurant we visited (the Diamond Creek Restaurant). And we drove through towns with names like Peach Springs. That was two or three pretty great hours.

Terry: Grand Canyon

Ellen: Grand Canyon, Love, Fiamma, O.

Richard: Hoover Dam Tour, Grand Canyon.

What were you most impressed by in Las Vegas?

Bob: Walking around the Bellagio was a thrill. Every time I see that place I am more impressed by it. And every time you think the place is gargantuan but feel like you are finally starting to get a perspective on it, you turn a corner and find out you aren’t even remotely close to seeing how big it really is.

Terry: The Bellagio

Ellen: That you could buy a 3,000-square foot house for $265,000!

Richard: Not impressed by anything in particular, I just like Vegas.

What were you most impressed by at the Grand Canyon?

Bob: The sunset was incredible. I don’t know if I’d want to stay in a hotel and explore the area again like we just did, with just one full day at the canyon and an overnight… or, even for several days just viewing it from its elevated sight lines. But if we went down into the canyon, say with a donkey ride and camping out… absolutely I would go back. (Memo to the group of six… if you want to get me camping, suggest places like Yosemite by a river or the bottom of the Grand Canyon.) Also… and there’s a hint in here… don’t be afraid to head east. When we went in for sunset we had a recommendation for Hopi Point, and then we opened our visitor’s guide to a page with a map that also showed Hopi Point, so we went with it. The next morning, the map was still on that page… in the car… and readily available. That two-page map focused from Yaki Point in the east to around Hopi Point in the west. (Understand… hiking trails… shuttle buses… closed locations… so other areas were listed, but Hopi Point was essentially the most western location.) It turned out that the locations further east were on a different page, on a different map. And with us heading west back to Vegas later that day, we really weren’t turning many pages looking for more to see and do, especially way off to the east. We were just busy being overwhelmed by the beauty of all the wildlife and nature. So… if Ellen hadn’t been looking at a different brochure, and hadn’t asked the rest of us about places like Grandview Point and Moran Point, we probably would have stayed away from them. Guess what? With the tower and other things (such as a couple of small but interesting stores… serving some great tea), the Desert View location at the east entrance was my favorite place to look around. Anyway... follow the entire trail.

Terry: The view and the sunset.

Ellen: The sunset... we did not get to see that last time Richard and I had gone. It's all beautiful.

Richard: The Sunset.

We went to the following casinos that we didn’t visit together last time: the Orleans, the Palms, South Point, Four Queens, Ellis Island and Hooters. Any thoughts on these?

Bob: In order… The Orleans was strange, because I loved the food at the Don Miguel Café bar, but I never really got swept away by the gambling there. I want to return to it, but it’s the kind of thing where I don’t know for certain why. Must be that Mexican food. The Palms was cool because we won money there. But the Playboy Casino was closed during the day, and in reality I didn’t see anything there that I don’t enjoy more at other places (which would include waitresses and other sights). South Point was really strange because it grew on me. I didn’t like it the first night. But… I had gone over alone to try and unwind from our trip. The next day I found out about the bowling and the movie theater. The pastry shop near the sports book was beyond reasonably priced. So now, I probably would look for it again on a future trip… though not necessarily for the gambling or the breasts on display… mainly for bowling or catching a movie and all of the options. Four Queens… nice but not special. Much like the Palms, it was ok, but I won’t have it on my must-do list for the future. If I’m there, fine, but I’m not going out of my way to get there. Ellis Island… wow… less said, the better. The parking lot out back was a scary one to leave your car in… even in daylight. (Felt the same way parking in the Fremont Street area.) And the Ellis Island casino and property was just… wow. Bad doesn’t seem to truly capture it as a description. (Let’s try the thesaurus option… dreadful… appalling… horrific… nope, it would have to improve to qualify as any of those.) Hooters… I don’t know what to say. For a place called Hooters, I don’t recall seeing a single pair of them. Some of the people were friendly enough… but my meal was awful and I could care less about going back.

So… South Point (yes)… Orleans (yes, especially to eat good, cheap Mexican food during happy hour)… Palms (yawn)… Four Queens (another yawn)… Ellis Island (not even if it was during a treasure hunt and you told me the briefcase with all the money might be hidden there)… Hooters (I’d need a good reason. Or two good reasons.).

Terry: Orleans was a pleasant surprise. Hooter’s was first for me too. Loved the wings. (I need to go to a Hooters soon Bob for more wings!)

Ellen: First off... Ellis Island is a dive... RR is an idiot for suggesting this dive. I liked the South Point... cheap tables... had a favorite video poker machine... did not do bad. I believe it was the Palms I won the $200, so I like it. I liked the Orleans Mexican lunch. I don't really remember the Four Queens too much. Hooters… not that impressive. The food was only so-so.

Richard: Orleans – Good. Palms – Good waitresses. South Point – I liked it because it was cheap, and when I lost my money elsewhere I won it back when I went there.

Best place to eat (overall)…

Bob: Fiamma’s has always been good to us, so I will continue to recommend them even though it wasn’t quite the same experience this time. Harley Davidson Café was also good during our repeat visit. I am very tempted to say the Diamond Creek Restaurant.

Terry: Fiamma’s

Ellen: Fiamma’s

Richard: Fiamma’s

Best place to eat (inexpensive)…

Bob: The Orleans. Quite possibly the best meal… based on value for the dollar spent… I have ever eaten in Vegas was at the Don Miguel Café bar. Mind you… not the best meal. Best meal when considering the full value.

Terry: Hooters

Ellen: Mexican lunch at the Orleans.

Richard: Mexican lunch at the Orleans.

Biggest surprise…

Bob: I’d have to go with lunch at the Orleans again. Free drinks instead of happy-hour-priced drinks because we were playing, and a great price on the food. I really enjoyed that, and I know I was stunned when… after getting free drink after free drink… I turned over the bill and saw the total.

Terry: Tour of Bellagio

Ellen: That the Mexican lunch was good for the price.

Richard: When the rock hit the window of our rental.

You know, I never really thought about this before, so I found it interesting when…

Bob: Normally I never have problems with this question, because something will stand out that was completely unexpected. But on this trip, the surprises were things like driving Route 66… lunch at the Orleans… the Hoover Dam tour. See? Nothing you wouldn’t have thought about at some time all on your own.

I suppose if anything did surprise me because I never considered it, it’s how much time we ended up spending on Fremont Street. I really didn’t think a return to the area was a must for this trip… though I did expect to head out that way at least once. After all… we met a great dealer, had a decent meal, and ended up seeing a unique shopping plaza during our first Vegas adventure. But, we just couldn’t get away this time. Between getting the drawing done… looking for dirty playing cards… and other assorted things, it seemed like we were pulled to the place.

And I guess I need to mention this… touring the Bellagio, and seeing that property really made me want to stay at a casino resort property on a future trip.

Terry: I loved the Bellagio tour. The place is huge, and seeing all those ballrooms and other special amenities and features was amazing. I also like the buffet at the Bellagio. I recall it being different than the others we’ve tried.

Ellen: Boris took us on the tour of the Bellagio... I could not believe how many ballrooms were in that place... I knew it was big but it proved to be bigger than I thought.

Richard: You try to be honest and people screw you anyway.

If I could recommend that they had to do this, regardless of expense, I would recommend…

Bob: Including the Grand Canyon and Route 66 were highlights of this trip for me… and neither one was too expensive, more an investment of time. For the money-no-object idea, I’d go with either O or Love… you can’t go wrong with either show.

Terry: The go carts were pretty cool to do. And you could enjoy an indoor event if it rains. I’d also recommend Love.

Ellen: Buying the top price tickets to see Love and staying at the Bellagio.

Richard: Eat at Fiamma's.

If I could tell someone that they had to do this, but the expense did matter (so go cheaper), I would recommend…

Bob: Mentioned it before… head out through the Hoover Dam and go see the Grand Canyon. Using Route 66 may not be your choice for the drive… but it had that nostalgic feel for us, and we benefited from a great lunch and the California condor sighting. Not one thing on that overnight trip was expensive.

I’d also recommend stopping by the Orleans… even if just for that lunch.

Terry: The Grand Canyon.

Ellen: Going to the lounge... "The Mix"... for the view, not the cocktails.

Richard: To see Love or O. Worth the price of admission.

Person/event that impressed me the most…

Bob: That stretch along Route 66… lunch and Karen waiting on our table… seeing the California condor… it was just a fantastic few hours that I know could never be improved upon, even if I got the group together and drove it again.

Terry: Bellagio and Boris

Ellen: Seeing the show Love and the California condor.

Richard: Wanted to be impressed… waiting to be impressed… want to share my memories with you… but not one set of boobs comes back to mind.

Thing I’m really glad we included…

Bob: Grand Canyon

Terry: Freemont Street

Ellen: The drive to the Grand Canyon.

Richard: The Hoover Dam Tour.

Thing I wish we had done…

Bob: Wow… about the only thing I have to say is drinking. The first trip out there, we didn’t rent a car. The place we stayed had a shuttle that went right to the middle of the strip and then out to the Rio. We used cabs on some rare occasions. So I could sit down and drink… and drink… and drink… and not have to worry about who had the car keys, especially if it was me.

Now I’m not a big drinker. And I don’t mind getting something without alcohol if I’m driving. Normally… it’s all the same either way, if not a better experience without it for me.

But there were some nights I just wanted to drink. Can’t explain why, since I don’t recall being drunk or even tipsy on our first trip. And I don’t know if I just wanted some drinking because of everything that was going on. In fact, with South Point next door and cabs available, it’s not like we couldn’t have found options for everyone to drink. I’m just saying I noticed it.

Terry: I think we did all I wanted to do. Maybe next time a helicopter ride?

Ellen: To have had the time to drive into Sedona.

Richard: Stayed an extra week.

Suggestions from this experience…

Bob: One thing I really enjoyed was how many new things we tried. It wasn’t simply the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon… it was that we had never done them before.

So my suggestion kind of goes out to people that have been there before… look for a good ratio of old favorites and new experiences. If you liked Cirque, see a different show that they run. Enjoyed a great dinner on one night? There are lots of amazing, even though some are expensive, restaurants to try.

Don’t forget to do those things you already love again and again… but look for something different to make that trip stand out. Could be true of any trip where you are returning to a place, but Vegas just has so much to offer that you might not even think about or look for.

Terry: I loved the Grand Canyon portion of the trip. I’d suggest looking for one or two ways to get out of Vegas and enjoy what’s around it as part of the experience.

Ellen: Do not rent from car rentals that are not the top well known agencies.

Richard: Take the drive to Grand Canyon.

Sure, this will be set up as a best of column, but you should always warn people about the bad, so here is something I think we need to mention…

Bob: I was very disappointed about the way the people at Advantage Car Rental handled our problem while we were in Las Vegas. And I want to point out, it had nothing to do with their company policies. The communication between staff members was bad… and how we were treated when turning the car back in was awful.

Terry: Watch out for falling rocks on your windshield. Remind people of the sunset times at Grand Canyon and to pick a spot early for photo opportunities.

Ellen: Don't rent through Advantage Car Rental!

Richard: Don't rent through Advantage Car Rental!


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com