This was a fantastic trip for me as I got to see plenty of old friends and meet some longtime supporters and podcasting peers. Let’s just jump right in.
TSA Pre-check saved me as I was unusually aloof in my planning. With the Zorkfest circumstances, I packed more than usual, needing to ultimately check a bag. I’m used to the ease of carry-on travel and arrived at an exceedingly busy DTW. I got my bag checked and sped through TSA to arrive at my gate a few minutes before boarding.
I landed at LAS early that Friday. I made plans to grab breakfast at Ellis Island before heading to the Plaza to check in. The food was good and inexpensive, exactly to be expected from EI. I finally had the chance to meet the charming Christina Ellis, marketing director for EI. She had helped me secure that fun deal a couple years ago. We discussed the new acquisition of a lodge in Mt. Charleston which they’ll be adding to their small portfolio of properties. I inquired about the karaoke situation at Mt. Charleston hotel. Christina admitted that she hadn’t even thought about it. So, when you’re singing Sweet Caroline into the mountain tops in the future, know it was I who planted the seed.
My brother and I left EI for downtown shortly after playing a round of VP at the center bar. After an odd process using the check-in terminals next to the front desk, we were allowed to get to our room early. Our mini-suite was clean and roomy, all we were looking for during our two-day stay. We didn’t spend much time at the Plaza with how busy we were with Zorkfest activities.
We took a quick nap and strolled (Ubered) to Treasure Island for the Zorkfest cocktail reception. Here, we mingled with travel bloggers, Vegas podcasters, avid listeners, and local celebrities. These moments are always the highlight conferences for me. Enjoying casual conversations with new acquaintances and catching up with old friends over cocktails is about as good as it gets. The VIP dinner was an absolute blast and the Treasure Island staff did a great job of managing the room. I also can’t say enough about the Zorkfest team. The amount of preparation was immense, but it paid off in the form of a well organized and thoughtful presentation, from the reception to the sessions.
Dinner concluded and the charity craps tournament was to begin. Thanks to a needed primer from the young straps of You Can Bet on That, the crowd felt more confident approaching the table and signing up. We raised a boatload of cash for Pangea Educational Development and I’ll be forever grateful to the Zorkest team for its inclusion. I didn’t win, so I’m pretty sure it was rigged against me. Having been up for about 24 hours at the conclusion of the tournament, I needed to get back to the room for some beauty sleep.
Saturday kicked off the full conference day, with sessions from early morning to early evening. Cousin Vito started us off on the right note with some very nice words about the community and the occasion. Breakout sessions followed. Richard Kerr and I were slated together for the first presentations. I offered a glimpse of casino gaming for newbies, analyzing different games based on particular approaches, be it for bankroll longevity, excitement level, or ease of learning. Kerr talked about God knows what.
Following my riveting lecture, we all heard from Gilbert Ott. You may remember “Gib”, as his friends call him, from what some are calling the pinnacle of his travel blogging career, his appearance on episode #7 of my podcast. Gilbert offered, as expected, fantastic, practical tips for making future travel less expensive, no matter a participants level of expertise in the points and miles world. Other speakers I saw and enjoyed included Las Vegas famous guy, Anthony Curtis of LVA fame, Eric Rosenthal from Vegas Confessions, and Heather Ferris of Vegas Aces. Having been involved with the Vegas scene for a while, I wanted to show my support to those who have promoted and been friends of mine for a while. For the next Zorkfest, I’ll likely spend much of my time on the travel side. All the speakers provided relevant and engaging presentations. Heather even had a full-blown blackjack table used for demonstrations. I’m not sure many conferences allow for participants to drink and gamble throughout the day, so Zorkfest is a winner in my book.
I may have slipped out during one of the sessions to play some bar top VP. The itch is too strong when you’re that close to the casino floor. This post-lunchtime trip was the first I gambled on the trip, more than a full day after landing. I’m not counting the charity tournament here.
The educational aspect of the conference was over at about 6 pm. I had to be back at Treasure Island for Podcasters After Dark a little after 9. My brother and I went back to the Plaza to freshen up and search for dinner. We walked to Evel Pie, but the line was pretty long, so we made our way to the always safe choice, Pizza Rock. The slices were fantastic as always. A quick stroll through DTLV and we headed back to TI.
The Podcasters After Dark event couldn’t have gone better. The TI ballroom was set up beautifully. The bar was already open and the drinks were pouring by the time we got there. It really is an honor to perform at an event like this. I see events like this as a reward for putting yourself out there. It’s not always easy doing a podcast or any other sort of self-publishing. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable and, at times, subject yourself to potentially negative feedback. But these showcases are the reward.
There is something really odd about doing a show live, however. Most of us record in a private room free from distractions. There’s no immediate feedback when preparing for a normal show. There are no groans, no laughter, no tepid applause. The immediate response from the crowd can really throw performers off during their first stage show. If it happened at all during, PAD, the hosts hid it well. Every podcaster did a great job. Eric Rosenthal acted as the MC. He first introduced his podcasting partners, Julian and Shane of Vegas Confessions. They set the tone nicely for the night, verbally applauding the community and their peers. Up next was the moderately famous Scott from Vital Vegas. Scott fielded questions and gave the crowd the skinny on some Vegas developments and behind the scenes happenings. You Can Bet on That was next. I, understandably, left the theater for the entirety of their performance. I was the last stage act of the night. I can’t speak to my performance, but there were far fewer pieces of produce hurled at me than my previous shows. DJ Moe Cosagio of Vegas Untz fame rounded out the night, providing us a mix of electronic hits as we mingled and drank the bar dry. Be sure to check out the live performances, hosted by the podcasters on their respective sites. Thanks to the Bettor Life for sponsoring the event and making sure our libations were better than bottom shelf and priced appropriately.
To ensure I wasn’t bothered by haters and paparazzi, I hightailed it out of TI and made my way downtown. I had more energy than I realized, so to let off some steam I ventured to Downtown Grand, knowing the tables wouldn’t be crowded. My brother and I bellied up to an open craps table. There was only one other player on it at the time and he was only making a pass line bet. Normally, I’d wait until the roll was over to cash in, but the dealers were antsy for more action and insisted I get in immediately. My brother and I obliged. A newbie quickly hesitantly. I shared my excitement of his arrival and insisted he roll. My eagerness paid off. He didn’t hit many points, but he hit a lot of numbers before sevening out. There were no truly bad rolls. No dreaded point/immediate seven out. We left the table a couple hours later up about 40% from our initial buy-in. The dealers were charming and appreciative. We had a ton of fun engaging with them. It was one of those sessions in which it felt like I won more than I really did. That’s the mark of a great crew. We ended the night knowing more about travel and gambling, after making a bunch of new friends, and with a fatter wallet. It’s hard to beat a day like that.
Sunday was a family day for me. My sister, a Vegas resident with a boat, took us out on Lake Mead with my nephews for the day. What amazing weather we had for a summer day in Vegas. It was about 85 degrees. We found a secluded cove and cracked open a few cold ones. It took the sun setting for us to realize we had lost all sense of time and needed to get back to the dock.
My brother and I grabbed an Uber back to DTLV and settled into our second hotel of the trip, Downtown Grand. This wasn’t my first time here. Everyone knows my affinity for this hotel by now. They have clean, modern rooms that are affordable. Couple that with what I think is the best pool downtown, and it’s clear why this is my downtown home base.
I had never been to DTG’s Freedom Beat before so, suffering from acute laziness after a long day in the sun, we opted to stop in for a bite. You can read my review, but I was pleasantly surprised. The menu was made up of classic American dishes done really well.
After dinner, we ventured to Main Street Station to meet up with the 360 Vegas Vacation crew. The craps tables were crowded, so we opted for a few hands of VP at one of my favorite spots, Boar’s Head. Our money went quickly, but the craft beer was flowing freely, so it’s hard to complain.
After our great time last night, we were feeling the craps itch again. We went back to DTG for another go at it, this time joined by our friends Taylor and Tara. Once again, the crew was great the rolls were good. We hit a few hardways and completed some halfway decent high fives. Taylor and I working on perfecting our form. I took my winnings to the nearby Pai Gow table. Not knowing it was commission free, I questioned the dealer as to why I wasn’t paid on what would be, at a normal table, a winning hand. My new friends, including Whispers Vegas, let me down easy. Off to bed again with a few more dollars in my pocket.
Monday brought us down to the south end of the Strip to end our journey with a little luxury. I booked a room at the Delano through AMEX’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, a perk of the AMEX Platinum card. The room was about $150, inclusive of the resort fee. The deal through FHR included $30 per person for breakfast and another $100 food and beverage credit. As long as we stayed on property for our meals, it’s basically a free room. That’s not much of a sacrifice with the quality restaurants in the Mandalay Bay complex.
The room was beautiful. Both the living and sleeping spaces were well appointed. I wish I had more time to enjoy the room, especially the exquisite bathroom. Adorned with marble walls, a soaking tub, and a double vanity, it’s a far cry better than the aging properties downtown. A full review will hit the site soon.
Della’s Kitchen provided our breakfast. They have this odd thing about charging 75 cents for water due to some in-house system they have. I really wasn’t paying attention. 75 cents isn’t worth getting worked up. Della’s gets mixed reviews online, but we found the food to good and the service prompt. Maybe it’s easy to please when the meal is comped.
With a couple hours to spare before our group meet up for some whiskey tasting, I dragged Andy over to Mirage. I think it’s one of the prettiest casinos around and love spending time there. We found the newish Fortune Cup game and decided to bet on some ponies. I unabashedly love this game. Minimum bets were $1 and it uses the TITO system, but I think it has all the fun of its analog counterpart, Sigma Derby.
We had a short walk to TI for our private whiskey tasting. A tip of the hat to everyone who helped set this up and specifically Michael for allowing us to use his suite for the festivities. As great as it was to sip some high-end brown liquor, the best part was being able to relax and talk Vegas, gambling, and other sinful goodness with a bunch of solid dudes.
We cruised back down to Delano to prepare for dinner at Libertine Social. I will not stop raving about this place. It was empty during our visit, likely because it was during the Golden Knights game. We were joined by our friends Taylor and Tara. Every dish was superb, every drink delectable. Because of how slow it was, the bartenders had no problem walking us through some of their favorite drinks and flavors. I’m telling you, if you’re around south Strip and need a place for dinner, don’t even hesitate.
We left Libertine satiated and joined the 360VV crew already at Skyfall Lounge. It’s still my favorite view of the city. Drinks are good but are pricey at about $20 a pop if you opt for a cocktail. Clearly, this trip was all about good views, good drinks, and good people.
We stampeded to the Luxor casino floor to get in a group craps session. The table was full of friendly faces but quite cold. I left the table a shooter too early, as a friend from across the pond came out hot and won every remaining player a sizable chunk of change. It only takes one good shooter to turn the night around. I’m happy most left with some chips of exotic colors.
I had a brief run at a private podcaster blackjack table. Feeling tired, I broke table etiquette and left in the middle of the shoe, for which Chris of Faces and Aces fame promptly but playfully scolded me. Hey, I have everyone a warning that I only had a couple hands left! I’m too blessed to be stressed.
Without a planned Vegas trip on the horizon, I’m glad this is one in which I can hold on to for a while. For me, it exemplified the notion that, if done right, Vegas is still one of the best destinations around. There’s still great value to be found. I’m at the point in which I simply ignore those who speak ad nauseam about fees and parking and this and that. There’s still a lot of magic left in that city. This trip proved it.
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