Spring 2024 Las Vegas Trip Report — Day 1

 

Remember how the last trip went just about as bad as a trip to Vegas can go (so, still fun)? I got sick while I was there, lost on pretty much every machine I tried, and my wife ended up in the hospital back home on my last day. 

 

This trip? It was the total opposite

 

Everything went my way. I mean, it fell my way so much that I actually started to feel uneasy. It was like watching a movie where the protagonist just goes through their life and everything is happy and great and then the credits roll. That’s lovely, but a movie without conflict lacks the arc that makes your heart pump and then that sweet release of resolution that leaves your life feeling complete and magical for just that brief walk from your seat to the parking lot (people still go to theaters, right?). 

 

This was an amazingly lucky trip (I kind of set out with those intentions and maybe it paid off… more on that in a minute) and I should have probably pushed it more. Bet more. Taken more chances. 

 

And based off of the small decline in MGM offers since I’ve been back (not that there was much room to fall, ha), MGM agrees. Or they just really want their money back.

 

Let’s get started. 

Sunday, 3:40am central: Leave for the airport

 

It always seems like such a great idea when I book the flight, and then a terrible idea the night before (and when I wake up). I chose a 6:30am departure which meant quite the early arrival. Given how late I knew I’d stay up once I arrived, this would certainly be another 24 hour day (once you factor in the time difference). 

 

But it was still a great decision. I’d arrive right around 7am for a full day. And considering I was only staying two nights, I wanted to squeeze every last bit out of this trip. 

 

Despite the airport being filled with hundreds (seriously) of college volleyball athletes, apparently heading home from some sort of tournament (I even heard some Southwest employees discussing the madness), getting on the flight wasn’t all that bad. 

 

And this is where my good luck started. 

 

We were told, repeatedly as Southwest is known to do, that this was a “completely full flight! Every seat will be taken!” 

 

Yet, as the plane filled up, the middle seat next to me remained empty (I was in the window, per tradition to see the skyline when I landed). 

 

It never filled. I looked around the plane and this must have seriously been the only empty seat in the entire place. A great start! 

 

I refrained from listening to my Las Vegas music playlist until our approach into bright light city. I started with “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” by Frank Sinatra. I’d had it stuck in my head for weeks but refused to listen to it until I was “on” my trip. 

 

Let’s just say that this superstition paid off (or it was a coincidence, lol). 

 

7:15am local time: Arrive in Las Vegas

 

I landed just before 7am and I was headed to Park MGM, via a really empty Uber pickup area, by 7:15. 

 

Empty rideshare pick up area at Las Vegas airport

Has anyone ever seen it this empty?

 

My intention was to check in and get breakfast at Primrose. But I called a booking agent a few days before the trip to confirm a strip view and actually had to rebook the reservation with the help of a supervisor. It was a great, helpful experience, but I was advised not to do the online check in. 

 

So a short wait at the Park MGM desk and I had a promise they’d text me when the room was ready, but that it was a super full day and I shouldn’t be too eager to claim my optional early check-in (for a fee) that I opted into. Bags over to the bell desk and off I was to start an adventure. 

 

A few weeks before my trip, I tried to make a reservation for Primrose as that was always my plan. With none available, I decided to take a ridiculous shot in the dark to see if Mona mi Gabi had a reservation (Obviously it wouldn’t), and it DID! 

 

So I walked past Primrose (mostly empty, by the way) and took an Uber to Paris. 

 

A great conversation (about raising entrepreneurial kids) later and I was walking into a super-smokey Paris Las Vegas casino. 

 

I still had about 15 minutes before my 8:15 reservation, so I took a brief walk around. This particular early morning visit made me really excited about the potential of bringing my mom on her upcoming trip and showing her this visit. It also made me really not excited because she hates smoke (yeah, Vegas will have some interesting moments for her, I’m sure) and this casino smoke was abysmal. 

 

8:00am: Mona Mi Gabi (Paris, Las Vegas) 

Anyways, I made my way over to Mona Mi Gabi and there was just a short wait to see the front desk. There was also all kinds of infrastructure off to the side to handle the huge crowds they were certainly expecting. 

 

I explained that I had a reservation and that I knew it wasn’t a guarantee for the patio, but that I’d be interested in knowing the current wait time if I went that way. 

 

Happily, they said they could accommodate me right away (when I left, there was a massive line, so my timing must have been impeccable). 

 

I had just the most amazing table looking out over the Las Vegas strip. I seriously had to keep pinching myself it was so wonderful. 

Breakfast with a view at Mona Mi Gabi in Las Vegas.

The service was delightful, the views were amazing (even the ones that made my feel guilty as I ate my bacon — like the 1% body fat runners), and the food was so so good. 

 

I was totally prepared to be underwhelmed after the hype of so many amazing reviews. But holy crap, the people have spoken for a reason. This place is amazing!! 

 

I got eggs, bacon, hash browns (might have been my favorite part), toast, and jam and blueberry waffles with powdered sugar and whipped butter and whipped cream toppings (with a blueberry syrup). 

 

I also savored my coffee. The waiter put no pressure on me to hurry, and I just wanted to stay forever. What a wonderful way to start. 

 

I got a coffee to go and decided to walk down through Paris and Horseshoe (I was officially done with people’s still “mistakes” — “Bally’s err… oh I guess it’s Horseshoe, now haha. Silly me!” nonsense, but then I actually did just call it ‘Bally’s’ and I had to catch it in an editing pass… so it’s still a thing, folks!) and down the strip a bit further as it was early and I was on a natural (and caffeine-fueled) high. 

 

I dropped, very briefly as always, into Cromwell. Not sure why that place can’t get me to go in further… it’s so nice and I’m that kind of “finer things” person at times, but I just can’t make myself get into it. I don’t feel welcome and there’s no major “attraction” as an excuse to meander around, either. 

 

Honestly, I think I liked it better as Bill’s Gambling Hall, though I only went in once right as they were starting the process of turning it into Cromwell. I knew nothing of Vegas at the time, like nothing at all, and my business mentor convinced me to play a few hands on a slot machine (at least that’s what I remember… maybe I didn’t actually play), and I was like 19 at the time.

 

I spent a bit in Flamingo and visited the habitat, even. 

 

Then I walked a tiny by down the Linq promenade (briefly pondered finally trying the famous Frozen Bailey’s), and headed back towards my side of the strip. 

 

I walked along Caesars, admiring the little fountain pool they have at the corner across from Horseshoe as I normally cut through (It made me think of the picture you always see circulating of the big shirtless guy bathing in it on a hot day haha!). I went up through the Bellagio instead of on the Strip. I wanted to see inside the shops and go ahead and make a trip to the Conservatory. 

 

I’ve been reading, again, the Winner Takes All biography about Steve Wynn. I’m just at the point where he’s building the Bellagio and spending absurd amounts on fine art. So the timing was nice. 

 

10:00am: Bellagio Conservatory 

The conservatory was lovely. It’s always so peaceful somehow — even when you’re bumping into people every time you move. 

I think they actually reused a piece from when I visited in the fall with my dad, as I recognized a purple bird I know my mom would love. 

Purple flowers on display at the Bellagio Conservatory

Overall, it was a nice display of course. 

 

I headed out the front along the walkway back towards the strip (I couldn’t find signage for the bridge over to The Cosmopolitan, and I didn’t feel like walking a mile and a half to try and find it). 

 

I braced myself (in a good way) to head into The Cosmopolitan from the side entrance at the front of the strip. 

 

Hopefully, this time, I’d be able to smell the delightful scents of Cosmo just a bit better than in January when I was sick.

 

Somehow, though, they weren’t as strong. I was genuinely disappointed. If MGM messes up the famous Cosmo smell I. WILL. WRITE. A. LETTER. 

 

Or I’ll write about it here, I guess. 

 

I played some Pinball (no players card in as I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I was ready to let them know I was here just yet). 

 

Then I went out through Crystals and over to Aria. 

 

The display at Aria was very… meh. 

 

Spring 2024 lobby display at the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

You can do better, Aria.

I was a bit shocked at that, really. Was it even really a display at all? I can’t remember the last time Aria’s check in area was just “normal.” 

 

I walked through to Park and still didn’t have a text about my room. But the line for check in was now super long, so I decided not to wait to inquire again in person. It was still barely after 11. 

 

I took an Uber to the Gambler’s General Store and had a delightful conversation about Vegas and the Uber driver’s son’s incredible ability to win at Roulette. 

 

11:30am: Gambler’s General store

 

The Gambler’s General Store was cool, but overall perhaps a bit disappointing — especially after my Uber driver on the way there hyped it up so much. The used Las Vegas casino dice and used Las Vegas playing cards were cool, but clearly things I have access to from my own store. I did think the slot machine reel paper (or whatever you call it) was cool. And there were more books about gambling than I ever knew existed. But these were more strictly gambling books and less Vegas history or I would’ve left with some heavy baggage. 

 

But I did buy some dice and cards that I don’t have now, and I put them in a bag. With still no text from Park MGM, I decided I’d walk around this part of downtown a bit. I’ve heard a lot about its renaissance and wanted to give it a try. On this Sunday morning, not much was happening that wasn’t sketchy, so I ducked into The English Hotel after like five minutes. 

 

There, I waited quite a while trying to decide what to do, but eventually ordered an Uber and decided to head to Fremont street and just bring along my bag. 

 

12:30pm: Pizza Rock

 

I decided that, though it was earlier than I originally planned (about noon), it was now or never to try the famous Pizza Rock. I was dropped off just outside and proceeded first to the outside pickup window before quickly realizing I needed to go in. 

 

There was a short line that moved at a moderate pace, but the employees were working quite hard, so I couldn’t complain. 

 

I ended up getting a regular slice of pepperoni and a detroit-style slice with two cups of ranch. I’m glad I saw others doing this, as this reminded me of how much I used to like a particular chain’s detroit style pizza when I lived in Nashville, and had never quite had anything like it sense. 

 

I sat down in the hot sun at one of the tables outside and dug in. 

 

My mind was blown. 

 

This pizza is freakin’ amazing. Best pizza I’ve ever had. I mean… I see why people rave about this and it’s won so many awards. I mean… amazing! 

 

My favorite was the Detroit style with ranch. I had to call my wife and rave about this pizza right then and there. 

Regular and Detroit-style pepperoni pizza from Pizza Rock in Las Vegas

 

I then ran across and stuck my head in the Downtown Grand to see what the table games were like. No spots were open, so I headed towards my planned stop at Circa. 

 

A quick walk down Fremont street without much catching my eye (I always think I’m going to spend more time here and go in a bunch of the casinos, but never really do), and I went into Circa. 

 

1:15pm: Circa, Fremont Street Experience, Golden Gate, El Cortez, Golden Gate again

 

I went straight for the sportsbook to see if they had the NASCAR race on. I didn’t see it. Instead, I saw a lot of basketball. Bummer. 

 

I decided to walk around briefly and ran into a NASCAR fan (obvious because of his jersey) and said something like, “Man, we should tell them to put the race on in the sportsbook. That sucks it’s not on!” He said that he actually did ask at the bar and it was on a couple of small TVs, but of course, the bartenders said it’s all outside of their control. But he said it was on a tiny screen at the sportsbook somewhere, so I went back to double-check and, behold, there it was in the far right corner at the top! 

 

I went back to the bar to get my first drink of the trip — a captain and soda — and went to find a chair. 

 

I had to go town to one of the front rows and the neck tilt required to see this screen was almost unbearable. I actually left and walked around a bit to see if I’d like the view from the standing area at the top, but it just wasn’t the vibe I was going for. 

 

They moved the screen to the left side, and I went to the left side as well. Surrounded by loud soccer fans, I turned my phone’s broadcast on and put it up to my ear to get some sound as I stretched my neck to see about 80% of the screen that wasn’t blocked by something I can’t remember (maybe the VSiN broadcast booth?)… 

 

NASCAR on the sportsbook screens at Circa Las Vegas

This whole makeshift operation was less than the epic time I had planned, so I ended up leaving and glancing in The Plaza before going into Golden Gate. 

 

There was some room at a $10 roulette table, but for whatever reason I had gotten it in my head that I wanted to play at El Cortez (probably the lingering great memories from my last session there) and I so I walked the entire distance of the Fremont Street Experience and then some on over to El Cortez. 

 

There were no openings there. 

 

So I walked all the way back to Golden Gate, found that original table, and sat down. 

 

The $10 limit was perfect, and I was able to spread my numbers out a bit so that I basically bet everything from 16-30, with a particular emphasis on my favorite number — 23. 

 

I probably played for an entire hour… enjoyed comped drinks and some chit chat among a few folks similar in age at the same table. 

 

They switched dealers after a bit, and the vibe kind of changed. I cashed out not long after. I was only $20 down, including decent tips for each of the dealers. 

 

At this point, I knew something was wrong with the hotel room (it was like 4pm), so I took an Uber back and went straight for the VIP line, which I was told I could do once my room was ready. 

 

6:00pm: Park MGM

Of course, they had the room ready (It had probably been ready all day, who knows) and so I was on my way, finally. I couldn’t wait to get rid of the Gambler’s General Store merch I’d been lugging around all day. 

 

The key card was lovely and the halls and lobby and everything about Park MGM so far I found to be quite refreshing. 

 

The room, on the other hand, was a let down. And I had seen many video reviews on YouTube to prepare me, but I thought that it must be better in real life. Nope! 

 

Everything felt like it was your first apartment out of college. Like… you’re trying, but you forgot to account for some obvious things, your decor questions are a bit cringeworthy, and you’ve had to borrow a few furniture pieces you found sitting on the side of the road. 

 

And, to make things worse, it was hot. I payed for a “strip” view which was… technically a strip view. But the Park MGM’s location just isn’t that conducive to an amazing view, so it was just okay. The sun was so hot through the window that I closed the drapes most of the time anyways. 

 

I collapsed on the bed and took a brief nap as I’m inclined to do on my Vegas vacations. Heck, I’d been up since 1am Vegas time and it was now about 5:30. 

 

When I got up, I swear it was even hotter. Was I sunburned, I thought? Nope. 

 

Maybe it hurt that I was in the last room at the end of the hall near the stairs? I don’t know, but for someone who likes a cold room, it was a bummer. 

 

But I took a cold shower (seriously, that’s how hot I was), mixed a drink, and got my Vegas music going again.  

 

Before I knew it, I was headed towards the elevator for a trek down to see Absinthe again. I got to the elevator bank right at the same time as another gentleman coming from a different wing and we exchanged a few pleasantries. 

 

Then we started chatting. Before I knew it, we were laughing and talking and walking through Park, through Aria and Crystals, through Cosmo and past the Bellagio fountains and still having a great conversation. 

 

We parted ways outside Absinthe, but actually exchanged info and texted a few times during the trip, but never did manage to connect again in person. It was great to meet him though, and it’s just one of those things that happens in Vegas. It’s great to be around like-minded folks that really appreciate Bright Light City. 

 

8:00pm: Absinthe

Absinthe was good, and I lucked out once again with an empty seat next to me. 

 

Absinthe was not, however, as good as I remembered it. I was really expecting to laugh even harder and was assured the acts varied a lot over time. But I remembered most of it. That said, if I ever get back with my lifetime best friends, a couple guys my age, I’ll go again. Otherwise, I’ll probably wait a number of years before going back. There’s too many shows I still want to see. 

9:45pm: Bellagio

I walked out and enjoyed a night time Bellagio fountain show. Then I walked into the Bellagio to gamble, feeling free to do so now that I’m an MGM loyalist and avoiding Cosmo play until the transition (or trying to, anyways). 

 

Unfortunately, it was hard to get drink service and after ordering and waiting for what seemed like forever, I gave up and moved along. I was down $11.

 

This was the only frustrating part of the trip… at this point I decided I wanted to be back at the Park / New York-New York area, and so I took the long walk back in a hurry. And it seemed to take forever, but I got the job done, including a CVS stop along the way. I should have just enjoyed the walk, but all I did was rush and grumble about how far I had to go.

 

Now, let the winning commence. 

11:30pm Park MGM

 

After a stop at my room, I took $100 down to the casino at Park MGM. 

 

I was only down $40 on the first machine, Huff ‘N More Puff, when I got the mega hat feature with three gold houses on a $1 bet. I was playing the Matt Bridger strategy — alternating between $1 and $2.50 bets. I hit on the $1, but got $80+ which felt like a turnaround. It was great, but I had no idea it was just the start. 

 

Another highlight was a win on Sweet Tweets. I always remember playing that with my dad at Aria a few trips ago, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing it on various blogger’s channels. I was once again on the Matt Bridger strategy, $0.50 vs $5.00 this time (I was up to $350 at this point) and got a hold and spin that featured two minors ($50 each) a mini for $10 and $60 in coins. Overall, it was a $190 win! 

 

At Park, by the time I left, I had turned $100 into a total of $500. Feeling great, I went to New York-New York and heard the siren call of a dueling piano bar. Hell yes. 

 

12:50am: Dueling Pianos (New York-New York)

There was a cover charge at the door, $5 for standing room and $10 for a seat at a table. Getting a table was an easy choice for a man up $400. They told me something about it ending in like 15 minutes but continuing super late (or something like that) but I didn’t care. 

 

But after 30 minutes, the place was still jamming and there was still a line to get in. I finally figured out that they meant drink service at the tables was ending, but the pianos would continue for hours and you could go to the bar to get more drinks. Anyways… I stayed there for probably an hour and a half… including a trip to the restroom and getting to feel cool skipping the line to come back in because I still had rights to my table. It was a great time. 

 

I went on to gamble some more at New York-New York and lost a couple hundred. I decided I wanted to leave a winner, and so I called it a night. My last bonus was at around 2:15am. 

 

At this point, I was up $200. And… actually up. I always say that anything left in my budget ($300 per day on this trip, plus a few hundred of throwaway money for random bets / table games at other properties) at the end of the night I consider a win. But I had $500 and felt like a million bucks. 

 

More tomorrow.