Got back earlier in the week from my most recent trip to Vegas.  While we stayed at the Stratosphere again this year, that was one of the few things that was a repeat of previous trips.  Got in Thurs afternoon,  grabbed a late lunch at the hotel at Roxy’s Diner, a 50’s drive-in themed restaurant with wait staff in 50’s clothes but alas not 50’s prices.   As I have mentioned in previous postings, the days of cheap food and cheap buffets is long gone from Vegas—there are still some deals to be found, if you know where to look, or am willing to go off-strip.  The “Strat” is on the strip but way down, about between downtown and the main part of the strip.  The Strat has a food court with a MacD’s and a few others, so budget options are available. Later that nite grabbed a slice of pizza in the same area.  I like the Strat, while the rooms are not fancy or large, they are clean, in good condition, and the beds comfortable.  My view from the 9th floor was of the scenic parking garage.  Didn’t care—Most of the time in Vegas I just need a quiet clean room, where I can sleep, take a shower, change clothes.  Except for an afternoon nap, I am not in the room much anyway.  The staff at the Strat is friendly, including the dealers at the table games and that is much appreciated.  The hotel, while large, is not huge compared to Vegas strip hotels, where you need a Sherpa guide to get you from one side to the other.  When I stepped out of the elevator from my room, I was 10 steps to a bar on one side, 10 steps to a Starbucks on the other, and about 10 steps further was the Sportsbook (ahhhhh—yeah!).  Friday morning, friend Jay and I headed out to some newer properties I had not visited before. These are built  several miles south.  One place “M” was higher-end, with impressive modern décor, a very nice pool area, tall ceilings in the casino, and very nice restrooms.  The second place we hit was “SouthPoint”, a more middle-end place. It appeared bigger than “M” , was much busier, had a slightly western flavor, but not excessively so.  I liked it.  Both resorts were stand-alone places.  There is no shopping or retail within several miles of either one.  From there it was time to hit an old favorite—In-N-Out Burger…ahhhhhhh…for those of you who have never had the experience, well, they are great for fast-food burgers. Menu is limited, either hamburgers or cheeseburgers. Fries, Drinks. That’s it.  But quality, fast service, clean, well-done.  The place is ALWAYS packed, from 10:30 in morning till close at , what, 1 or 2 am….

From there it was a drive to a another new (for me) resort, Green Valley Ranch.  This is a higher-end resort as well. Beautiful décor, high ceilings, very nice pool area.  The bathroom floors were marble.  This resort has several nice restaurants and shopping across the street. Not close to the strip, but an impressive property.  Landscaping was incredible, lots of roses, and other flowers.

That night, we ate at the Italian restaurant in the Strat, Fellini’s.  Good food, reasonable prices (for Vegas), quiet, very good service.  The food was very good.  From there we cruised to The Hard Rock Hotel, off the strip. Place was packed, noisy.  Lots of rock memorabilia, guitars, etc on the walls. Interesting place.  There was a large private party going on, and we just parked ourselves at a bank of slots by the entrance to the party, and watched the invitees enter.  I don’t think anyone was older than 45, most in late 20’s early 30’s.  The guys were in jeans and mostly t-shirts and the women, well,  it was either micro-mini skirts or leather dresses (or both) with stiletto high heels. For about 45 minutes the parade went on. Truly jaw-dropping.

Sat am we got a little late start, but decides to head up to Mt. Charleston. That is about 35+ minutes north of Vegas. On the way out of town, we stopped at a restaurant I had seen on the Travel Channel and the Food Network but had never tried: “Hash House a Go-Go”.  Located in an old house, the place was packed, but being a smaller party was able to grab a table outside, under the covered porch.  This was the best place we ate all weekend.  The prices were high, but HUGE portions. Lots of interesting menu items and combinations. Great place for brunch.  I got the Chicken and Waffles (How could I pass that up?). Two large pieces of fried chicken, tender, moist,  on top of four incredibly large waffles. The waffles had a little fruit on them, but inside the waffle itself was a large slice of applewood smoked bacon.   My order could have feed 3-4 people. I maybe got halfway through-maybe. Service was great, knowledgeable, but not fast.  They make everything from scratch, have no microwaves or toaster ovens in the place. Hand-squeezed lemonades topped off the meal.  Very impressive.  May be time to look at a possible franchise for the Austin-Waco, area….hmmmm…back on the road to Mt Charleston and the national wildlife preserve in that area.  The Mt itself rises to over 11,000 ft.  The temperatures as you climb from the valley remarkably drops.  Not having been up there in over 10 years I was amazed at all the beautiful “log-home” style houses there were in the area, including some humongous places.  We stopped at the Lodge, where a number of folks were sitting to eat an early lunch, and looked at several tables of truly unique native-American jewelry and craft items.  We drove through a camping and picnic area on the mountain, passing shady areas still covered with snow, stopping on occasion to enjoy the views of the mountains and the valley far below.  Truly a different experience from a usual Vegas trip.   Early Sat evening was spent at the party-pit at the Strat.  Most casinos have some variation of this area, a few tables set aside with female blackjack dealers in  costumes of scanty attire,  varying depending on the theme of that hotel.  At the strat, the dealers wore VERY short “Daisy Duke’s” shorts and either a bikini top, or a lingerie top.  They were, in a word, attractive.  The surprising thing was, the tables were all $5 blackjack tables. Usually, the “party-pit” tables are $10 or more.   Once I was up a little bit, I stopped playing and just stood behind Jay and made fun of him while he was losing.  Once done, we headed downtown for the evening.  For those of you who have not seen the Fremont Street Experience, it is amazing.  It is a long dome of millions of lights, about 3 stories tall, that cover several blocks of the main part of downtown. Starting at 8 pm, and every hour on the hour till midnite, they turn off all the outside casino lights and  have a light/sound show that is mind-boggling. Every show has a different theme.   Jay wanted to go down there cause the 9 pm theme was his favorite group, “The Doors”.  They played 3 Doors songs. The show lasts about 7-10 minutes. The downtown area is a large pedestrian mall with sidewalk venders, some cheap drinks (hard to find) and great people watching.  They usually have 2 bands playing live music, one band at each end. This nite they only had one, an Alice Cooper tribute band (I am completely serious). The lead singer looked the part, but couldn’t sing.  After a while wandering around, we decided on a late dinner at the Chart House, a new restaurant at the Golden Nugget, my favorite hotel downtown.  Nothing like eating Prime Rib at 10 pm at nite in Vegas.

Sunday we drove out towards Red Rock Canyon, about 15 miles west of Vegas. I have been to the area many times in the past several years. The rock formations and bright red striations are well worth the trip.  However, upon reaching the entrance, we decided there was too much traffic so just decided to proceed west on the two-lane Nevada hwy.  We went past a Nevada State Park, that was owned by Howard Hughes for a while, stopped at several small towns along the way.  One town in particular caught our eye, Blue Diamond. Town of about 300 people, on the slopes of a mountain, former mining town. All the yards were neat, the houses trim and in good condition, very nice. We stopped in the town store, little more than the size of a convenience store, and chatted with the owner for awhile.  Very interesting guy.   It was a highlight of the trip.  Finally back into Vegas and a stop at a fast-food chain based out of California—Del Taco.  Very good tacos, cheap.  Had unusual (for a Tex-Mex guy like me) flavorings—lots of cilantro and a little lime. Different.  From there it was back to the Strat, went to hang out at the adult-only pool for a few hours, then up to the top of the Strat tower for cocktails before dinner. The Strat has an observation deck 108 floors above the strip. The cocktail lounge is on floor 107. There is a nice restaurant on top that rotates so you get a complete view of the area. The idea is to watch the sun go down and watch the lights of Vegas come up. Very cool.  A new experience at the Strat is a controlled free fall from the 108th floor to the 2nd floor.  People (who actually pay money to do this) put on a rig that is attached to cords that go all the way to the bottom. You then step out onto a platform and jump off the tower. Similar to bungee-jumping except you are feet first, mostly.  It is amusing to watch the people in the restaurant freak out when they see someone “falling” in a harness past their window down to the bottom.  There is no way I would do that, even if it was free.  Much too perilous.

From there we drove to the new City Center area on the strip, to visit the new resort “Aria”. Very modern design, very unusual architecture. I am not a big fan of modern design, but this hotel had several features that were quite beautiful.  Well worth the visit. We ate dinner at one of Wolfgang Puck’s many restaurants in Aria, called Puck’s Brasserie.  Interesting menu—Italian.  From there was back to the Strat for a last shot at the slot machines and to bed. Had a 4 am wake-up call to catch my flight home.

Overall impressions of the trip:

Lots of new places, some worth repeating. Always like to try new places along with some of the old stand-by’s. Crowds, pretty busy at the Strat, not busy at all downtown, which was surprising on a sat nite, the strip more crowded than it was the previous year, but still not packed. Everyone I talked to said tourist volume was starting to pick up after a really lean 18 months. I made a little money this trip, thanks to the Sportsbook and a nice recovery on my last slot machine. Food was always good, if usually overpriced. Cocktails were plentiful, well-made, and very overpriced.

Would I stay at the Stratosphere again? Absolutely.  I really like the place. Good value for the money, even if inconvenient location.  If you stay there, it is best to get a rental car. Taxi’s in Vegas are vastly overpriced.  Looking forward to my next trip to Vegas, probably in mid-August for a special birthday party.  I am already packed….Viva Las Vegas!

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