Las Vegas Trip Report

December 20-25, 1998

Day Four - December 23, 1998

We forced ourselves to get up at 8:30am. We had ordered a continental breakfast to be delivered between 9-9:30 and I wanted to be dressed. At 9:15 the guy arrived.

We had a leisurely breakfast consisting of a carafe of coffee, two big fruit salads (fruit cup, sliced melon, grapes, and mango), one blueberry muffin and a bagel with cream cheese. It cost $14.18 with tip. Not too bad.

We watched a little bit of morning news while we packed. One person on the news is named Rikki Cheese. I really liked her but that is a very unlikely name for a person in show business!

Dan ran outside to check out the pool area before we left. The pool isn't The Mirage by any stretch of the imagination, but it's nicer than a motel pool and has a nice sandy volleyball area.

On our way out of Sam's Town, I went down to the Town Hall and talked to a Casino Host (Elizabeth). She was very nice, although she didn't comp us for anything. I chatted with her a little bit about how this was our first stay and how much fun we had. There was only one charge to our room (breakfast) as we were there on the Las Vegas Advisor Free Room Coupon, so I can understand her hesitation to comp the breakfast… especially considering that we were taking some of their money with us. Like I said, she was very nice and said that she hoped we would come back. I think we will.

I checked us out of Sam's Town while Dan got the car from the parking lot. I put the $14.18 for breakfast on the Visa Las Vegas card and met Dan outside by Valet parking.

We drove to Boulder Station and parked in the garage. We went to the Slot Club and checked on the cards we got in the mail. They had given us 3000 points divided over two cards from signing up over the Internet. I gave them the LVA coupon for 3000 more points and had that split over our two cards. We played a little VP and some video blackjack and basically just checked the place out.

It seemed to lack charisma and charm after leaving Sam's Town. I don't think I'd stay there with Sam's so close. We left at about noon.

We drove down Sahara to the Strip and cut over to The Rio. We had received a letter offering two nights with a buffet for two, two tickets to ride in the parade and a $10 credit at the Voodoo Café for $110. We went to the casino check-in and were helped immediately. We asked for a room with a view and were given room 17009 in the Masquerade Tower.

Rio was Dan's favorite room, but not mine. First, they wouldn't let us just park the car out front to check in. They wanted us to Valet it with all of our luggage in it. (Including cameras and computer? I don't think so!) So I parked it in the red zone. Then we got our room and moved the car to the Masquerade Parking Garage. We loaded ourselves down with luggage and made our way inside. We came in on the 2nd floor, then had to go downstairs then through the casino to the Masquerade elevators. Then we have to show our keys or room charge every time we go into the elevators. Not an easy task with 6 pieces of luggage! (suit bag, rolling suitcase, 2 small shoulder bags, camera bag and laptop computer bag). There is no easy way to get to your room in this place. You've got to go up to get out and down to get in… and forget trying to find the buffet… but more on that later.

Once we got to our room I felt better. We were given a room with a strip view (basically Bellagio to Downtown) on the concave side of the new tower. I'll spare you the description that David Berman has given before (if you're really interested, there are a number of pictures on my website or I can email them to you). There is a nice bathroom and vanity area with coffee maker, refrigerator and good-sized closet. We had actual glass glasses in the bathroom for the first time this trip too.

The room had a little table with a phone and data port for the computer as well as a king sized bed and L-shaped couch. The lights are dim… if you want it bright, bring your own light bulbs. I could not stitch with the light they provided in the room.

The strangest thing was this big square thing in the middle of the room. Like some sort of support post blocking part of the window. I tried to look in the windows of the other rooms and it looked like many (if not all) of them had it. Seems odd to me that you'd have a huge window like that and then block it. Maybe someone can fill me in on the details. (David?)

I was crashing badly and needed to raise my blood sugar. Hauling that luggage from the garage was not good for me and I felt it. We went down to Bamboleo's for lunch and had a nice booth by the window. Because I was tired I didn't think alcohol would be good so I had a coke instead. Dan had a Dos Equis. I ordered the steak soft tacos and Dan had the number 3 combination plate with a chicken soft taco, beef enchilada and a chili relleno. He didn't like the chili part of the relleno, not because of the cooking… just didn't like the chili. The lunch was a little bit more expensive than we had become used to on this trip, $24.24 with tip. Still very reasonable for a nice lunch.

I felt better after eating lunch and went down to the casino to try to find my Sneaky Queens Video Poker. There used to be a huge row of 10 of them (5/5) right by the stage in the Masquerade Village, but it was gone. Finally we asked a change person who directed us to the other side of the casino. We finally found two of them in a small circle of machines right by the Pai Gow Tables and video Mah Jong. (Near Fortunes). I was really mad. I asked a change person why they took them out and she shrugged and rolled her eyes. I said, "But I used to win on them all the time." She said, "So did I… maybe that's why they're gone!" Oh well. Boo Hiss to the Scrooge at the Rio!

*** Dan Writes *** The Rio is fabulous so far! We have a great view of the Strip from Harrah's north, and the rarest of Vegas room features: a SOFA! Still no Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas available with the movies on demand.

Unlike Sam's Town, the toilets in the Masquerade Tower have no warning near them, but perhaps they should. They virtually implode when flushed, sucking down the contents with 17 floors worth of suction. There should be a sign reading: "WARNING: Do not flush when sitting!"

I didn't do much gambling at the Rio - only a little on machines and no blackjack. I finished blackjack ahead at Binion's and Sam's Town, and my superstitious side warned by that I was due for a losing session. With the Rio's $5 table minimum, that can get expensive fast.

I drove to the Sahara to try out the Sahara Speedworld. I was curious to see what one of the few surviving Rat Pack-era Strip resorts was doing to survive in this era of the mega resorts. I was also curious after seeing ads for $1 live blackjack, in this era when anything under $5 is very hard to find.

After parking in the parking structure, the first thing I noticed was the ratty elevator going down to the street level. The face-lifts of recent years did not include the garages. I walked around to the impressive valet entrance on the strip and in through the doors, finding the table games right in front of me.

I had expected a setup similar to Main Street Station, which operates a single $3 blackjack table just so they can advertise 24-hour $3 blackjack. Instead, they had no less than five $1 tables offering regular blackjack, Caribbean stud and Let It Ride. Although there were people playing blackjack, there were lots of empty seats, and the place had a slightly deserted feeling. I don't know if this was the sign of a classic resort in its death throws, or because it was still the quiet pre-Christmas week in Vegas.

I followed the signs to the Sarah Speedworld through a large empty area. The glass domes on the ceiling told of the room's past life as a casino, but all that was there now was a bar with a bored-looking bartender, and a few roped off dragsters on display. One of the speed vehicles has to be the most insane death-trap of a car ever made. It was built around a jet engine!

The Speedworld area offers 3-D motion rides in addition to the race cars. I asked the ticket seller if they were like the ones at Caesars Palace, and he says they were. Since the motion rides at Caesars just make me nauseous, I skipped them.

I had to wait what seemed like a long time for the Speedway. Someone said they were short-staffed. I was eventually led into a room where I was shown a video about the operation of the cars. Finally, I got to race.

The cars are full-sized replicas of Indy formula racecars, mounted on pneumatic jacks to simulate inertia forces. A screen displaying computer graphics wraps around the front, filling up the driver’s peripheral vision. A pair of LCD screens mounted on either side serves as side-view mirrors. The cars can be run in auto or semi-automatic transmission mode. Semi-auto has 10 percent more horsepower. If the car is in a collision, it may be damaged. The car runs at reduced power, and doesn't handle correctly. When that happens, you are supposed to drive into the pit, wait a few moments while your car is "repaired," then you can return to the race.

The first lap was getting used to the handling of the car. On the second lap I spun out and was apparently hit by another car. A voice told me to drive to the pit, but the steering was messed up. I finally got the car aimed at the pits and gunned it in. As I approached, I hit the brakes, but the breaks didn’t work either. I crashed again into the barrier that divides the pit stalls. I worked the car into a stall, got repaired, and re-entered the race.

I didn't have another collision, but I did have a few spinouts and brushes with the wall, as well as a lot of fun negotiating the curves while avoiding other cars that had crashed or spun out. The interesting thing is that if you spin out with the car pointed at the wall, you must shift into reverse, back up (hoping that no one hits you) and point your car the right direction.

When the time is up, the image of the raceway fades and the canopy opens, it is literally like waking up from a dream. On your way out you get a computer printout analyzing your performance and offering "Expert’s Recommendations. In so many technical racing terms, my readout recommended "Drive faster and don’t hit anything." I came in 5th place out of seven racers, and I like to think that the top four have raced before. Well, maybe.

I would recommend Sahara Speedway to anyone who enjoys driving video games or who fantasizes about being a professional race car driver. While no driver’s license is required to race, operating the cars requires enough real driving skill that I don’t think kids below driving age will have $8 worth of fun.

I went up to the room and rested for awhile. Dan came back and we played some VP together before getting an ice cream sundae (2 for 1 with our LVA Coupon) at Ben & Jerry's and watching some TV before bed.