Editor’s note: Any time I get a trip report from a fellow Adam, I have to post it. We’re lucky because this Adam, a fellow Vegas obsessive, used a special, red chip rating for his experiences. I may have to steal it! Hope you all enjoy this TR like I did. Be sure to say hi to Adam on the Twitter.
Greetings, VFB fans!
As a listener of this wonderful podcast and reader of the site since last year, I’m excited to have the chance to contribute a trip report for the good of the community. Thanks, Adam, for the opportunity!
I’m (also) Adam from Phoenix – I have the good fortune to live within a four hour drive from Las Vegas. I used to take advantage of this luxury at least two or three times a year… until my wife Katie and I had kids. Children have a way of changing things just a bit. Since my son was born over four years ago, I’ve only made it out twice and she hadn’t been in over five years. We decided to leave the two little ones with my parents last weekend (Aug 18-20th), and off we went!
As a dedicated red-chipper and value seeker (Have kids? You know what I mean!), I’ve received great advice from VFB and other sites/podcasts about ways to maximize your time, money, and enjoyment of this place we all love. Much credit to Adam, the Five Hundy by Midnight crew, VegasTripping, and You Can Bet on That for everything you all do. In this trip report, follow along with us and I’ll share my take on both the overall quality of the experiences we had along with a “Red Chip Rating” to give you a sense of the value, from our perspective.
With that, let’s go!
For our Thursday/Friday night stay, I found an excellent rate on Hotwire for the Golden Nugget at $100 a night. This rate includes the taxes and nightly resort fee of $28. I highly recommend Hotwire, what I’ve found over the years is that it’s pretty easy to know what property you’ll get or at least narrow it down to two. Using Hotwire will typically save you 20-40% the hotel’s rate and I’ve found their customer service to be excellent if needed.
I decided to start off the weekend trying a $20 “sandwich” in hopes of an upgrade. The desk agent at the Gold Tower saw the tip, set it aside her monitor, and went to work. I had requested a Rush Tower room when handing over the tip, but was told they were fully booked for the weekend. After I asked for the Gold Tower, she said they could offer me a $40 nightly upgrade to the club level and would remove the resort fee. So, I received a great, refreshed 17th floor room for only another $12 a night once the resort fee was lifted. She also handed back my $20 as she was unable to grant a complimentary upgrade. Either way, I was thrilled to not end up stuck in the old Carson Tower rooms!
The room was spacious by downtown standards, with a full-size media center and a full-size couch. While the bathroom had clearly been retrofitted, not re-done from the original build, the double sinks and TV in the mirror was a nice touch, along with a tile shower. Too bad the shower fixtures were terrible! They looked nice at least. We had an excellent view overlooking the Plaza and the pool complex. Noise was not an issue at night, but was in the morning once the pool opened up. Around 9 AM you could hear the music playing – wasn’t too much of a problem but take note. The bed and pillows were plenty comfortable. The only thing we didn’t care for was the lack of blackout curtains by the window. These rooms have shutters instead, but the room didn’t stay nearly as dark as we’d hope for after a late night on the town!
As for the rest of the resort, we didn’t spend too much time at the Nugget except for a couple places mentioned later in the review. The bars and restaurants looked fine, but we had other plans. Nothing captured our attention or felt like a must-do experience, other than a stop in the Tank pool.
Quality: 8/10 for room, 6/10 for resort
Red Chip Rating: 9/10 through Hotwire, 10/10 upgrade value
Bond Bar @ The Cosmopolitan
We arrived at Golden Nugget around 7 on Thursday night, checked in and spent some time getting settled in. We decided to skip a nice dinner having grabbed some food on the drive up, so we headed straight for the Cosmo to check out the Chandelier bar and play some video poker. Katie was hooked on my WinPoker training app during the drive and was ready to play having learned the basics of Jacks or Better. I was excited to check out the Verbena cocktail and anything else the bartenders wanted to make. We took an Uber to the Cosmo using the promo for new riders, as she was new to Uber and I sent her a code through my account. The Uber and Lyft experience this trip was great – incredibly cheap for rides and the drivers were friendly with new, clean cars. Finding the Uber/Lyft pickup stations was the only hassle, as they often can’t use the main entrances.
Get in and head straight to Chandelier only to find that Level 1 was still closed and opening back up on Wednesday… one of the few disappointments on this trip. While the other two levels were open, we weren’t paying nearly $20 a drink with no VP. After giving the new Wonka slots a try, we found two seats at Bond Bar, located by The Henry and the entrance nearest the Strip.
Drinks were absolutely incredible. While we played, we each were comped two drinks – one after playing the first $20 and another 30 minutes later. Although they use a ticket system for drinks now, it wasn’t too long of a wait. We enjoyed spicy margaritas, a tiki-style drink, a Thai spin on the Moscow Mule, and the liquid version of a Thin Mint cookie. Each drink was perfectly made, the scene was a lot of fun, and it easily made up for the 7/5 paytables on Jacks or Better. We came back for more on Friday afternoon as well – this bar was a highlight of the trip.
Red Chip Rating: 10 if playing video poker, 7 if not as drinks are $15 plus tax and tip.
High Roller Happiest Half Hour @ The Linq
A month prior to our trip, we purchased a Groupon for two nighttime rides on the High Roller with open bar for $78 total. The normal price would be $104, so this was a solid discount. At 11 on a Thursday night, it was plenty busy. We had to wait for about 30 minutes to get our passes at the ticket window, but got on a pod quickly after that. Directly behind us in line was a group of four incredibly drunk and obnoxious people who also had the Happy Hour upgrade. After expecting the worst, we were the last ones on the pod and that group had to wait – a very lucky break a few of us in line were happy to see.
On an episode of Five Hundy by Midnight, they noted how quickly the bartenders in the pod worked to maximize the 30 minutes in the air. Let’s just say that was an understatement – the entire pod had shots in hand within the first 90 seconds, and another drink ready two minutes after that. In some ways, it was almost too efficient – my liver was NOT a fan of the High Roller experience! We both had a blast, enjoying (more than) a few drinks and the awesome views of the Strip at night. The fountains at Bellegio went off just as we reached the top of the wheel. Having seen the fountains many times, it was neat to get a unique vantage point for the show. The time in the pod goes fast, but the bartender made it an extremely fun and unique event everyone should try once.
Red Chip Rating: 9 with Groupon, 7 without or if you like drinking slowly.
Johnny Rockets @ Tropicana
About 20-30 minutes after our ride, it became clear that it was time to get something in our stomach. We were right by the Trop, I told Katie that I wanted burgers, she found Johnny Rockets. Tasty, inexpensive and quick – places like this serve a purpose!
Red Chip Rating: Where did I put the receipt? Who knows. Probably a 9.
Claude’s Bar @ Golden Nugget
We made our way back to the Golden Nugget and decided for a bit more video poker before bed. Claude’s Bar in the middle of the casino was there with open machines and it was good enough. The 7/5 pay tables weren’t good enough, however. Drink service was fine, nothing special. Not too much to say about this experience other than managing to not lose any money. Overall, the casino at Golden Nugget leaves a lot to be desired. High minimums at tables and poor VP paytables are one thing on the Strip, but there are so many better options within a two-minute walk.
Red Chip Rating: 3
Bacchanal Buffet @ Caesars Palace
Although we both woke up at 9 the next morning, we were feeling the effects of the night before and took it easy the rest of the morning in our room. It was during this time we appreciated having a nice room for our stay – we weren’t in a hurry to leave and just wanted to relax. Mornings without little hands and feet grabbing us at 6 AM are way too few and far between, so why not enjoy it? Grabbed some coffees and took our time before leaving for Caesars around noon.
We also had a Groupon for the Bacchanal Buffet, which was $88 for two including the use of the Diamond/Seven Stars VIP line at check-in and a mimosa each with the meal. The line pass saved us a good 45 minutes and was an excellent perk, and the drinks were good as well. Overall it was a solid deal compared to the $49 per person regular price without any add-ons. Both of us were excited to try this buffet.
While the selection of food and the setting are really well done, the food leaves a lot to be desired. Too many items were dried out, overcooked, or not at the right temperature. The cheese and cured meat section was the standout, along with the best dessert bar I’ve had at a buffet. Very strange – most buffets have poor desserts, here it was the standout. If you go, make sure to leave room! Overall, it was a fun experience, but the food quality at a buffet like Bellagio’s is much higher, at a more reasonable price. We wouldn’t choose to go back, and if it wasn’t for the Groupon we would have been quite disappointed in our meal. The service was also quite poor, both at check-in and with clearing the tables and getting drinks. Caesars should do much, much better when charging $49 a person for brunch and even more at dinner.
Quality: 6. But it’s a 10 for the ambiance, a 5 for the food, 9 on dessert, and a 4 on the service.
Red Chip Rating: With the Groupon, 8. Without, a 3.
Conservatory @ Bellagio
We decided to head back to Bond for drinks and VP, but walked through Bellagio on our way. Bellagio’s always been one of my favorite properties. Every trip, we check out the fountains and the conservatory. These are nice ways to break up the day and do something that’s free. This time, the gardens were done in an Under the Sea theme, including a tunnel that doubled as a fish tank. Great décor and a good theme made this version of the conservatory better than most.
Red Chip Rating: Fun and free makes it a 10! Always worth a quick stop and a look.
The Neon Museum
A goal for this trip was to see places and experience new things developed since my wife and I had last been to Vegas together. One of these places was the Neon Museum, also referred to as the Neon Boneyard. This outdoor museum is an incredible repository of Vegas history, having collected and in some cases restored hundreds of old signs from properties throughout the city. If you’re into Vegas history, this is a must-do experience. The only way to see the signs is with a guided tour due to liability. Tours run $18 during the day and $25 at night, or $35 to do both. If you’re into photography I’d recommend taking the tour at both times, as the experience at night is great but the majority of signs are not functional and hard to shoot well in the dark. Keep in mind you’re only allowed one camera and one lens (no camera bags!), as they don’t want you to use the photos commercially, just for personal use.
Our tour guide was great. She provided a huge amount of information on the history of the signs and of old Vegas. Signs from the Stardust, Binion’s, Las Vegas Club, the Golden Nugget, Desert Inn, and many more were included in the tour and the history lesson. If you’re not into history and just want to have a good time, this is probably not the right place for you. Only seven or eight signs on the property are lit up in their old glory. If you love everything about Las Vegas and what the city used to be, then go – make sure to book your tour weeks in advance online, as they almost always sell out. I was fortunate to get the last two tickets 10 days before our trip. All tips to the tour guides go right back into the property, as it’s a nonprofit museum and they won’t accept your gratuity.
Red Chip Rating: 8
Golden Gate Casino
After our tour, we headed back to the Golden Nugget to drop off our camera. We signed up for a players card at the Nugget and played for a bit before heading out to Fremont Street. Took in the Experience show quickly and then checked out the Golden Gate.
Golden Gate is one of my favorite places downtown. It’s small, but has a great historic feel to the property and a really fun vibe. It’s energetic but friendly, with great dealers and solid table game rules. My wife doesn’t care for table games, so I didn’t play on this trip. Instead, Katie up for a player’s card and we went to Bar Prohibition. Golden Gate and The D have done a great job of improving their craft beer selection to include some excellent brews from around the USA. The downside was a lack of Jacks or Better at the bars.
Jacks or Better is a great game for us red chippers, as it has very low variance and your money can last for a good long time fairly often. When playing Bonus Poker or Double Double Bonus, you will quickly find yourself on the losing end unless you hit a 4 of a kind. We didn’t, so our time there was short. Got a couple beers out of the deal and moved on, playing a couple penny slots on our way out.
Quality: 9 if playing tables, 6 if only VP/slots
Red Chip Rating: 7
The D Casino
During my prior trip downtown, I never made it all the way down to the D, but have heard plenty of great things about the place. It’s substantially bigger than Golden Gate, and was busy throughout. Definitely attracts a younger crowd out for a good time. The vibe of the casino was great, and we headed upstairs to check out the old games and Sigma Derby.
One of two Sigma Derby games in all of Las Vegas, we managed to grab a couple seats right away and started playing. It was fun, but we hit an awful stretch of luck. Even though it was just quarters, we managed to win one race out of probably 30. This took some of the fun away, even though the machine itself was fun to try and it’s a cool place for groups to play.
Overall, something about this casino wasn’t a hit for us, and not only because we lost both times we played there. The lack of Jacks or Better was a drawback, the other paytables aren’t great, and other places seemed more in line with our laid back style.
Red Chip Rating: 6
By now, the food from the buffet had long worn off and we were ready for a late night happy hour. I insisted that we make it to Pizza Rock at some point during our stay downtown. Glad I did – everything people say about this place is true. All the pizzas are phenomenal, and to get a good sized personal gourmet pizza for $7 is a steal. A couple pizzas, some meatballs, and a jalapeno Hefeweizen from Banger Brewing was less than $30 after tax and tip during happy hour. Great atmosphere, wonderful service, world-class pizza – you can’t go wrong here.
Red Chip Rating: 10+. Best deal of the trip.
The Tank @ Golden Nugget
We managed to sleep in until 10 on Saturday morning, but needed to get going faster with the 11 AM checkout. After packing up, checking out and dropping our suitcases at the car, we headed back into Golden Nugget for a swim in their pool, The Tank. It was nice to be able to use the pool after checkout, as long as you could present a room key at the entrance, you were allowed in. At 11 it wasn’t too busy in the pool, but all the lounge chairs were taken by the chair hogs who leave a towel and return hours later. Don’t be that person, please. The shark tank and slide is such a unique concept. They had lounge chairs in the water that we sat in for a bit. Checked out the adult pool on the second level, but it was completely full and looked like a bathtub. At this point, we decided to grab a drink – until we realized a frozen margarita was $14 out of a margarita machine. No thanks! We didn’t need a cocktail that badly, it could wait. The pool is a really nice area and unique for downtown, but it was completely crowded by 12:30 and we decided to go find something to eat.
Red Chip Rating: 3, on the price of drinks alone
Main Street Station
In a city that’s constantly evolving in a more upscale direction to the detriment of red chippers like us and people who enjoy a solid experience at a great value, it’s easy to forget about places like Main Street Station. It’s a short walk from Fremont Street, but it’s the kind of place that you have to visit intentionally. You’ll never go past MSS on the way to something else.
After our time at the pool, we needed something to eat – while I had planned on hitting up Fremont East and a newer brunch spot, we didn’t have time. Having heard the buffet at Main Street Station was solid, we decided to give it a shot. For $13 a person, with no wait, including champagne on weekend mornings? It was a great deal! All of the food was very good – while it wasn’t anything fancy, there were plenty of breakfast and lunch options, all prepared correctly. Unlike our time at a much more expensive buffet the day before, nothing went back because it was overcooked or wasn’t hot. For the cost of one drink at the Golden Nugget pool, you can get this buffet brunch at Main Street Station. We love nice food, but you can’t always afford to eat like a king.
From there, we checked out Boar’s Head Bar to play some full pay, 9/6 Jacks or Better after picking up some players cards. We had the American Casino Guide book, so we both had $15 in new signup credit on our accounts. We both put in $20 and walked away with $170 combined two hours later, having hit five 4OAK’s and a straight flush. Make sure to call over the bartender after a 4OAK to get a scratcher good for at least $2 and up to $5,000. Also, the beers at the bar are brewed on site for the Triple 7’s restaurant – all the beers were very good as well. It was a fun, relaxed place to play a couple hours of video poker. We both wished we had gone there sooner, but this was our last stop before heading home.
Red Chip Rating: 10
Thanks to everyone who took the time to read through this trip report – I hope you found something in here that might end up in your next Vegas trip plan! For all of us who go a long time in between trips, it’s always nice to read these reports and keep up with what’s new and interesting in the city. Until next time!