Monday, January 29, 2007

The Game of My Life

Well, that might be overstating it a bit, but it was the game that had the most riding on the outcome.

My pool team played in the city championship tournament this weekend. In the second round, the team was up against elimination. The match was tied 2-2. The winner of the next set of games would move on to the simi-finals and the loser would go home. Because of handicaping rules of the league, I was the only player left. To make the story short and sweet, I played some of the best pool of my life and got the win.

The team went on to win the trounament and the free vacation. Now we have to decide where we want to go, but an all-inclusive week in Aruba is a possibility.

I did have one surreal moment on my way home after my big game. I was proud of myself for hitting the last two shots of the match by telling myself that I can handle the pressure and that "this is your moment." Then I couldn't remember one very important point. Did I call my last 8-ball shot? Yikes!

Pictures to follow.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NETeller folds like a cheap suit

I got my letter from Full Tilt Poker today about NETeller.

"Dear Special K,
"As you may be aware, NETeller has announced that it will no longer accept transfer requests from U.S. customers to online poker sites or allow withdrawals from online poker sites to your NETeller account, effective immediately. This applies to players like you as well as real poker players.

"As a fish who used NETeller or Instacash, we want you to know that any money you currently have on deposit with Full Tilt Poker remains completely at risk everytime you log on. If you are interested in withdrawing your money from Full Tilt Poker before you loose it, please click here to find out how.

"Rest assured, we remain committed to providing real poker player with access to all of your bankroll, and these developments will not change your day-to-day playing experience at our site. Furthermore, any monies that you deposit with us - through any of our approved payment processors - will remain completely available to your competition and accessible at any time you decide to play.

Full Tilt Poker"

Well, it went something like that. Since I don't have any other use for NETeller, I put in my request to empty the account. I'll keep the loose change that I have on deposit at FTP and play with that. If I loose it, I'm probably done with on-line poker. Life goes on.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Flamingos at the Flamingo

When I was writing up some of the other attractions along the central strip, I failed to mention the wildlife habitat at the Flamingo. The Flamingo hotel is across the street from Caesar’s Palace and Bally’s at the busiest corner in Las Vegas, Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Blvd. The old bird is starting to show her age and they lack a good poker room, so I don’t stop in very often. That being the case, I haven’t scouted around the property much at all, so I missed it.

Watching one of those all-about-vegas shows on the travel channel tonight (or is it the Vegas channel); I saw them give a top 10 list of free things in Vegas. One that I had missed was the birds at the Flamingo. They have flamingos (or course), African penguins, swans, ducks, Koi, and turtles on islands and streams surrounded by sparkling waterfalls and lush foliage (their description, not mine).

It sounds like fun and can fit easily into your schedule between the Forum Shops and the Bellagio. I'm going to make a special trip next time for sure.

Top 20 Hotels in the US

Writing about the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino yesterday got me thinking about whether or not the MGM was indeed the largest in the world. I had also heard that many of the largest hotels in the world are in Vegas. So I decided to check it out. Here is what I found for the top 20 hotels in the US (I couldn't find a world list):

20. Imperial Palace
Las Vegas
Right in the heart of the strip, the Imperial Palace has 2,635 guest rooms and suites.

19. Wynn Las Vegas
Las Vegas
On the old site of the Desert Inn, Howard Huges' last residence. The golf course behind the resort has been redesigned. Only hotel guests can play; No visitors. Green fees: $500 per round. 2,716 rooms. An additional tower has been designated as a separate, all-suite hotel called Encore, and will add another 2,300 rooms when construction is complete.

18. Bally's Casino Resort
Las Vegas
2,814 guest rooms and 300,000 square feet of meeting space.

17. Disney's Pop Century Resort
Walt Disney World, Florida

16. Gaylord Opryland Resort
2,881 guest rooms and suites.

15. Treasure Island (Now just TI)
Las Vegas
2,885 guest rooms and a pirate theme

14. Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas
A taste of France on the Las Vegas Strip. 2,916 guest rooms. All hotel employees learn several new words of French each day.

13. Las Vegas Hilton
Las Vegas
A AAA four-diamond resort with 2,956 guest rooms, Barry Manilow, and a Star Trek themed casino. How can you miss?

12. Monte Carlo Hotel Casino
Las Vegas
A more affordable version of the Bellagio with 3,002 guest rooms.

11. Mirage Hotel Casino
Las Vegas
You may feel as if the Siegfried and Roy show lives on, surrounded as you are by white tigers, tropical rain forests and even dolphins. 3,044 guest rooms and suites.

10. Caesar's Palace Hotel Casino
Las Vegas
Caesar's made the list recently with the opening of the new spa tower. 3,349 guest rooms and suites.

9. Hilton Hawaiian Village

8.Flamingo Las Vegas
Las Vegas
A great location, low rates, and 3,565 guest rooms and suites.

7. Circus Circus
Las Vegas
Loud but cheap, and with 3,774 rooms.

6. Bellagio
Las Vegas
For romance, spring for a fountain-view room, tune in the piped-in music on television, and watch the show from your window. Let everyone else jockey for a spot in the street. The most recent tower, opened in December 2004, brings the total to 3,993 guest rooms and suites.

5. Excalibur ("The Castle")
Las Vegas
A family-oriented fanasy hotel at the base of the Strip, with 4,008 affordable guest rooms and suites.

4. The Venetian
Las Vegas
The Venetian has 4,049 suites and a 120,000 square foot casino. Each suite in the Venetian has a fax machine/printer, and guests receive a personal greeting fax with their own personal fax number on arrival. When The Palazzo opens with 3,025 rooms, The Venetian resort, with 7,074 hotel rooms and suites, will become the largest hotel complex in the world.

3. Mandalay Bay (including THEhotel)
Las Vegas
With the addition of 1,118 rooms in the new THEhotel, Mandalay Bay jumps up to #3 on the list with 4,341 total rooms.

2. Luxor Hotel Casino
Las Vegas
The unmistakable pyramid and the adjoining tower house 4,408 guest rooms and suites, making this the second-biggest hotel in the United States.

1. MGM Grand Hotel Casino
Las Vegas
It is the world's largest hotel building, with 5,044 guest rooms, 576 suites in each of the three The Signature at MGM Grand towers, 51 Suites in the SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand and 29 villas in the The Mansion at MGM Grand. The 30-floor building features five outdoor pools, rivers, and waterfalls that cover 6.6 acres, a 380,000 square foot convention center, the MGM Grand Arena, CBS Television City, and the Grand Spa. It also houses numerous shops and night clubs, 16 restaurants, two food courts, and the largest casino in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The South Strip

I like the South Strip. This is the area south of the Bellagio and Paris. The major properties here include the Monte Carlo, New York New York, Excalibur, MGM, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, and Tropicana. These are some of the best and most unusual place to play poker in Las Vegas. But for the casual visitor, there isn’t a ton to see. There are a few highlights that I’d like to point out.

The MGM Grand is one of my favorite places to play poker. The hotel is still, to the best of my knowledge, the largest hotel in the world with about 5500 rooms. The poker room is at the front of the casino with lots of noise, traffic, and most importantly, players. For this reason, I usually end up spending a lot of time at the “Gem” when I’m in town. As for sights, there is a lion habitat is a large glass enclosed area right on the casino floor across from the poker room. Admission to the habitat is free. Hours are from 11 am to 10 pm daily.

New York New York is a neat place to just stroll through. They have recreated many of the streetscapes from various areas around NYC. You can watch the roller-coaster zip overhead, but riding is not in the cheap range. I think the price for a 45 second ride is about $12.

The Excalibur, across the walk from NYNY, is fun to look at from the outside, but there really isn’t anything free to see on the inside. They have shops and food. If you are headed to the Luxor, you can get there by cutting through the “Excal” or Castle, but the way is complicated (go into the casino, up one level and to the right, follow the signs through to food court).

There isn’t a ton to see at the Luxor either. The atrium of the pyramid is the largest open atrium in the world, but the rest of the property is better if you are spending some bucks. Did I mention that the Luxor has Carrot Top appearing nightly? No, I didn’t and for good reason, too.

Mandalay Bay doesn’t do much better on the cheap entertainment scale. They have a Shark Reef attraction, but that runs $16 a person. I love the House of Blues at MB. Tickets for those events start at $20 for some events. Major shows can start at $50 or higher.

Finally, the Tropicana. This used to be one of the marquee locations on the strip. But time has taken its toll. There are some interesting exhibits, but all of them take a few bucks. Bodies: The Exhibition is a look inside 21 real human bodies. Yea, it’s kinda gross, but very educational, I’m sure. The other attraction is Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition featuring many artifacts that sunk with and were recovered from the Titanic.

So the summary for the South Strip is that it’s a nice place to play or spend money, but don’t go past the MGM if you are looking for free attractions. Next, I’ll look at some things to do that you will need a car to see.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Vegas Eating Tips

I’ve hesitated to put this post together mainly because I don’t consider myself any kind of expert on the subject. I’ve eaten just about every day of my life. I should know a thing or two about it. I just don’t live to eat like some. I eat to live. If living well means eating well then Vegas can be a very expensive place to live. Some of the finest and most expensive restaurants anywhere are right on the strip. I could personally recommend The Steak House at the TI or the Samba Brazilian Steakhouse in the Mirage or even the Steak House at the Circus Circus (“best steak in town”), but none of those would fit with the free or nearly-free theme of these posts.

Much of this post is for when I'm on my own. If I'm with friends or family, I adopt more normal eating habits. Being with the people that you like is part of the experience and not something to be tossed aside in the name of getting back to the tables. I enjoy sharing my adventures as much as I enjoy the experience. Meal time is sharing time.

Eating on a wee budget in Vegas is complicated by the fact that the days and nights in Vegas are long. I’m typically trying to squeeze every bit into my days in Vegas that the clock will allow. Back-to-back days on five or less hours of sleep are not uncommon. All that activity needs fuel. And since we are trying to fit in as much as possible into each day, we don’t want to spend too much time getting there and back.

So what is a visitor on a budget to eat? I’ve already mentioned a couple of place to eat in Downtown, so I won’t cover that again. My staple on the strip is Subway. There must be a Subway restaurant on every block of the strip. My main ones are in the Casino Royale and O’shea’s. There is also Subway’s next door to the MGM and in the Riviera at the ends of the strip. There are others that are spread around. I just don’t know them all. According to, there are eight locations on Las Vegas Blvd. Most are on the strip.

Typically, I’ll buy a foot-long whatever. I sit down and eat half of it. This will fill me up for the next 4 hours or so. I’ll keep the second half until I’m hungry again. The strip price for the sandwich, chips, and a huge drink is about $10, but that $10 will just about get me through a day. I won’t need any more big meals in a normal day and that sandwich will be a lot better for me than most of the alternatives.

Some might ask about buying a huge drink when they “give away” drinks at the tables. That would be nice if it were true, but the fact is that you really need to tip the waitress when she brings you a drink. That means those little tiny 5 oz. cokes really cost about a buck a piece. This is the desert and you need to hydrate, so $2 for a 32 oz soda is a good deal. I still get cokes and other drinks at the tables.

If you are really pinching pennies, you could buy a big bottled water at the CVS and refill it from the water fountains, but I (usually) don’t go that far. Doing so means that you don’t know what the hell you are doing at the poker tables.

I will supplement my diet with health snacks. Chips and candy taste great, but they do nothing for your nutrition. My favorite snack is trail mix heavy in nuts and fruit. Trail mix travels well in a backpack. It is filling, tasty. Most importantly, train mix can be eaten at most poker tables in town. Your hand will stay clean enough to handle your cards without angering the house. I have been asked not to eat at the table before as some poker rooms no not allow food, but I can usually avoid the discussion all together by keeping the bag in my lap and just popping the mix into my mouth between hands.

Trail mix is best purchased at one of the drug stores along the strip. The casino hotels will all have some in a shop, but the price will be outrageous. The CVS on Convention Center Drive also carries bananas and assorted other healthy snacks at a reasonable price. I might also by some Pop Tarts at the drug store for quick starters in the morning.

For a change of pace, I like to hit the Panda Express next to the Casino Royale. The food court in Caesar’s also has some good selections for a decent price. For the poker players, you can earn your meals at several casinos by getting and using a Player’s Club card. The MGM, for instance, comps players $1 per hour played. The Imperial Palace comps $2 per hour. Harrah’s and the Venetian also comp for poker play. Comps earned are good for pretty much anything for sale at the hotel including food, so don’t forget to use ‘em.

One word of cautions about the advertised specials: Be careful about what you order. The Vegas casinos don’t give away food like they used to, so don’t expect that because they have a super cheap special that the rest of the menu is also cheap. And the $2 steak is sometimes overpriced. Many times the restaurant will jack up the price of other items, especially drinks, to make up the difference. Buyer beware.

I’m sure there are many other hidden tricks to eating in Vegas on a budget. I’d like to hear them. The comment board is open.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Downtown Vegas

Freemont Street Experience Downtown Las Vegas is old Vegas. Some folks don’t like the lack of size or flash that you find on the strip. I happen to like downtown. It is more personal than the strip. It is not more friendly. In fact, you can be dealt a load of attitude from the dealers and wait staff that you will likely not find on the strip. This just makes the downtown experience more real to me.

The biggest and best free entertainment in the downtown area is the Freemont Street Experience (FSE) ( Freemont Street is now a pedestrian mall down the middle of downtown Las Vegas and its casinos and shows. Every hour on the hour, the 5 block long overhead canopy comes alive with a light and sound show unlike anything on Earth. Some of the shows that I have seen are a patriotic show called “American Freedom” with jets, fireworks, and looooong waving flags, and “Lucky Vegas” with dancing girls and great special effects. The first show is at 6 pm and the last one is at midnight. You will find other things to do in Downtown, so schedule them around the FSE shows.

There is some killer entertainment under the canopy. There are two stages for bands that are kickin’ at night. You will also find artists, musician, and other various performers. If the weather is nice (this is all outdoors), you will probably spend an hour just wandering up and down Freemont Street.

Check out the historical marker that explains the story of downtown. I think it is located just west of the strip club and the Las Vegas Club. It has some great pictures of the old hotels. One picture even shows a mushroom clowd from a nuclear test rising in the distance. Spooky.Binions Gambling Hall and Hotel

At the east end of the FSE, you will find the Neonopolis shopping mall. Inside, there is a TV studio that is home of the most innovative poker venue anywhere, the Mansion.Net Pokerdome. On select nights, the Mansion.Net Pokerdome show is taped in front of a live audience in this location. I’ve seen this show taped at another location. They show the audience the cards, bets, and heart rates of the players in real time. This is highly recommended entertainment if they are taping while you are in town.

In the middle of the FSE, you will see Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel. This was the original site of the World Series of Poker. There is still quite a lot of that history if you know where to look. From Freemont, Gallery of Championswalk through the casino to the back left and follow the signs to the poker room. Judging from some recent photos, Binion’s has redecorated the poker room. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have done. They may have even included some photos taken by your truly. The really adventurous may want to ride the escalators up from the poker room to find Benny’s Bullpin which was the room used for many of the World Series of Poker. There’s not much to see there now, but you might soak up some good karma.

During the warm months, you can take the elevator up to the rooftop pool. This is one of the best views of Vegas. At night, the view can be absolutely spectacular.

If you are hungry, Binion’s is one of two places I like to catch a bite to eat. The coffee shop is open 24 hours. Both the food and the prices are good. The service is only fair, but this is old Vegas, so think of it as a feature. You will find the coffee shop downstairs. Just follow the signs.

While I’m on the subject of eats, the other place I frequent is the Upper Deck Coffee Shop in the Las Vegas ClubLas Vegas Club. The Club is at the end of the FSE near The Plaza. The coffee shop is upstairs. You will find the escalator up to the coffee shop in the back left of the casino. Be sure to check out the awesome collection of sport memorabilia that is mounted on the walls in and around the Las Vegas Club.

Getting there and back is pretty easy. Of course, if you are with a group, the trip downtown is just like any other. You get in a cab and split the fare. It will cost between $20 and $30 for the trip.

If you are traveling solo or in a pair, it can be fun and economical to take the Deuce. This is the double-decker bus that runs from Downtown to the far end of the strip. From anywhere on the strip, catch the deuce going north. The cost of the trip is $2 per person each way. You can also pay $5 to get a pass good for unlimited trips for the next 24 hours. There are a couple of warnings about the Deuce. You may want to plan to take the Deuce to downtown and a cab back to the strip. The stop for downtown can get pretty crowded late at night. You can avoid this by walking a few blocks more to the bus station. Girls won’t want to do this alone. Secondly, watch your head in the upper level if you are taller than 5 feet. But the ride can be entertaining for the sights you see and the characters you are likely to meet.

If you drive, I recommend parking at Binion’s parking deck. You can get your ticket comped at the poker cage by just asking. Each stamp is good for 4 hours and they’ve never asked if I’m actually playing poker there. You can also valet park at Binion’s if you don’t mind fighting the crowd, waiting 15 minutes for your car, and tipping for old Vegas service.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Inside the Bellagio

The Bellagio is at the very top of the list of fine Las Vegas properties. Almost any amount of money can be won or lost or spent here. But the purpose of these posts is to do and see things without spending money, so let's see what the Bellagio has to offer.

In short, it has plenty. We already talked about the fountains out in front of the hotel. They are fantastic and deserving of their own post (see below). Since the previous post left us at the fountains in front of Caesar's Palace, we'll walk south from there, up to the over-street walkway and directly into the Via Bellagio (Shops and Boutiques). Here you will stroll past such retailers as Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, and Gucci (again the Italian thing). The Bellagio always decorates the Via with something for the season. It may be giant Christmas balls or a huge Liberty Bell or the biggest ear of corn in the world.

The Via Bellagio leads directly into the casino. This is the most plush casino in town. You will notice that it is quiet compared to most. The carpeting and drapery over the tables cuts the sound while making the experience of being there much more comfortable. I noticed the same thing in the new Wynn, which was designed by the same guy.

Our first destination is the poker room, of course. This is a better stop to make late at night, because we would be looking for poker pros. Many of the most famous poker pros seen on TV play regularly at the Bellagio. There is a glassed-in room in the back of the room called Bobby's Room. It is named for Bobby Baldwin who is the President of the Bellagio and who also wrote a chapter in Super System: A course in Power Poker. You can go into the poker room and you can look into Bobby's room, but don't linger if there is play going on inside. They will ask you to leave if you do. Of course, you could buy in for $10k minimum. :)

From the poker room, we want to follow the signs to the reception desk. This will be roughly southeast of the poker room if you still have your bearings. Once you are in front of the desk, look up. You will see 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers - the Fiori di Como, created by world-renowned artist, Dale Chihuly. If you have some time, have a seat in a comfy chair and enjoy the art. It is an experience.

Once you are rested and refreshed, take a right out of the lobby and into the Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, They are a kaleidoscope for your senses. This magnificent garden abounds in fragrance, texture and color. Row upon row of exotic plants and flowers weave a glorious display that highlights the season or holiday. There's no more inviting location for a photo opportunity or just a pleasant stroll.

While at the Bellagio, you may want to partake of some of the fine restaurants or the Gallery of Fine Art which is now featuring the work of Ansel Adams. Tickets are $15 for adults, so it doesn't fit in the free category. The Gallery and Gallery Store are open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, including weekends and holidays.

Next post, we will venture to Downtown for more fun.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Caesar's Palace and the Forum Shops

The Forum Shops at Caesar’s has three reasons to visit. First, it (they?) lies between the Mirage attractions (see post below) and the Bellagio attractions (see fountains below and a future post). Since you will be going from one to the other, you will not have to go out of your way. Also, during the summer, it is MUCH better to walk in the air conditioned shops than in the heat of the strip.

The second reason is the Forum Shoppes host the only Bank of America ATMs on the strip. For cheap-skates like myself, saving $2-5 on ATM charges is worth the walk.

Finally, these attractions can be a lot of fun. We will start our tour coming from the Mirage, past the miniature Trevi Fountain and into the newest part of the shops. You will immediately see the double-helix escalators taking shoppers up and down through three levels. I’m no engineer, but I’ll bet this baby involved a little high math in its design.

You will recognize many of the names on the shops, and they won’t be Sear’s and Penney’s like the mall back home. The stores in the shops include Bvlgari, Versace, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Valentino. Is there an Italian theme here? Be sure to stop in and check out the prices. Wow!

Once you’re done strolling, move to the casino level (third level, I think) and head down through the mall. There is only one way, so no worries about getting lost here. You soon come to the Festival Fountain that is dominated by Bacchus. Bacchus and his friends come to life (animatroinicaly speaking) at the top of each hour. It is free and fun, though I think that the mechanisms that run the characters are a bit worn and the laser part of the show is a bit dated.

There is a second show in the Shops in an hour, so now would be a good time to eat if you are hungry. The next fountain that you come to is the Fountain of the Gods, but that is not the attraction. This area is interesting in that the lights cycle every hour to simulate a complete day. During the time it takes to eat lunch you will feel the sky darken and see the street lights come on. After a while the process will reverse itself. Most shoppers will hardly notice.

Continue on Fountain of the Gods to the Atlantis Show and Aquarium at the next fountain (2nd picture in this post). This animatronic show is more dramatic than the Bacchus show with fire leaping from the fountain. The 50,000 gallon salt-water aquarium sits behind the fountain. There is a free tour of the aquarium that includes a ray and shark pool. Feeding time is the highlight of the day. Check the schedule for feeding times. I wouldn’t waste 45 minutes waiting on this show, but if you enjoy shopping or aquariums, it’s worth the time.

Once this show is done, head back to the Fountain of the Gods and take a right. Here you will usually find Pete Rose signing autographs. Be sure to stop and say hello. Get a picture if you like. Maybe even by a baseball signed “I’m sorry I bet on baseball, Pete Rose.” He is a nice guy despite betting on baseball. Continue in the same direction into the casino.

The last recommendation I’ll make while at Caesar’s is the poker room. Like my Venetian tour, this Is to see the poker room, not to play poker. The room is located in the casino between the sports book and the night club Pure. You’ll get there by walking through the casino bearing to the left toward the huge TV monitors of the sports book.

BTW, this is a great place to take a break. The chairs in the sports book are very comfy. Each one has its own monitor and the restroom is located right beside the entrance to the neighboring poker room.

But back to the poker room. The hallway leading into the poker room is lined with original LeRoy Neiman oil paintings. Neiman is the most recognized sports artist. Once inside the poker room, there are more great sports painting and photographs unlike anything you will see anywhere else. You will also notice one of the nicest places to play poker in existence.

Once you are done in the poker room, keep heading in the same general direction to a door and back to the strip. While heading south toward the Bellagio (my next post), you will walk past the fountains in front of the main entrance. In 1967, this is where Evil Knievel F’ed himself up attempting to jump them on a motorcycle. You’ve probably seen the footage where he is tossed over the handlebars like a rag doll. F’ed up in this case means a crushed pelvis and femur, fractures to his hip, wrist and both ankles, and a concussion that kept him in a coma for 29 days. Mike Metzger jumped the same fountain with a backflip in May of 2006.

Next stop, we’ll tour the inside of the Bellagio. Chao.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Mirage

Next on the list of fun and free things to do in Vegas is to tour the Mirage.

As mentioned on my last post, the Volcano in the front of the property is a fun watch. It has been, as the Mirage describes it, a signature attraction since the resort opened in 1989. The three acre feature is 54 feet high and circulates almost 120,000 gallons of water per minute.

At the top of each hour from 8pm (7 pm spring, 6 pm winter) to midnight, the earth rumbles and flames shoot from the waterfalls and the top of the mountain. The whole show lasts less than 5 minutes and it doesn’t draw much of a crowd, but that just means that you can show up right on the hour to see a nice slice of Vegas.

From the volcano, move up the sidewalk to the front entrance. There you will leave the desert of Las Vegas and step into a lush tropical rainforest. Under the 100 foot domes live palm trees, orchids, bromeliads, and more than 100 different types of plants. A waterfall and meandering stream fill the air with a feeling of peace and quiet that is rare on the strip.

Once you’ve soaked up the rainforest, continue ahead and to the left past the deli and shops to the white tiger habitat. The magnificent animals are on display behind a glass wall in an environment that is modeled after their natural habitat.

You may also want to swing by the front desk of the Mirage to check out the aquarium. It is a little better than the glass box you had as a kid. This 53 foot long 20,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is home to angelfish, buffer fish, tangs, and more than 1000 coral reef animals from around the world.

The Mirage also features Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat. I have not seen this attraction, but I have heard that it is very nice. It does not fit into the theme of this post as admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children from 4-12. The Mirage website specifies that children under 4 are free when accompanied by an adult. I guess that has a problem with 3 year olds hanging out around the tigers all day. :)

My next post will hit the highlights of the Forum Shoppes at Caesar’s Palace. It's not just about shopping. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sirens of TI

This is a free Vegas attraction that I have not actually seen myself, but I enjoyed the old pirate show quite a lot, so I’m sure the Sirens are worth the price at least. Borrowing liberally from the Treasure Island site ( “The Sirens of TI® (show) begins with a 17th century clash between a group of beautiful, tempting sirens and a band of renegade pirates. With their mesmerizing and powerful song the Sirens lure the pirates to their cove, stir up a tempest strong enough to sink a ship, and transform Sirens’ Cove into a 21st century party.” So I read that as pretty dancing girls, sailing ships and loud music. I’m good with that.

The shows are nightly at 5:30, 7, 8:30, and 10 in front of the TI (along the strip). This show is very close to the Mirage volcano (next post above) and right in line with the Forum Shops (future post) and the Bellagio Fountains. Combined, they make a nice evening walking the Strip for free.

The Venetian Shoppes and Poker Room

The next “must see” Vegas attraction is the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian®. This has to be the most over-the-top shopping experience in the world. To get the picture, start with any suburban shopping mall. Now add a domed ceiling painted to look just like the sky. The walkways are cobblestone. Add “street” performers that juggle, dance, sing, or just stand statue still. Next, change all of the stores to carry merchandise that is four of five times more expensive than back home. Finally, flood the center of the walkways and add Venetian gondolas with singing gondoliers. It is a sight not to be missed.

After viewing the shoppes, don’t miss the rest of this property. The Venetian has one of the nicest casinos in Las Vegas. The floor and ceiling in the grand hallway are spectacular to those who enjoy decoration and architecture. The front of the hotel contains all of the famous landmarks found in Venice, Italy including the Bridge of Sighs, Rialto Bridge, St. Marks Basilica and Bell Tower.

Lastly, don’t miss the poker room. This is not necessarily to play, though I highly recommend that, too. There is a room past the cashier’s cage that is for high stakes poker games. There is no sign pointing the way, but there is no door keeping anyone out either. There will not be anyone to keep you from looking in, so don’t be shy if you are searching for the pros that you’ve seen on TV and maybe other celebrities as well. You can often find the top poker pros playing for more money than your car is worth on a single hand.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Vegas Series & Bellagio Fountains

Today I’m going to start a series of posts on Las Vegas. This will be a collection of things to see and do around Vegas that don’t involve a lot of money (most will be free). The purpose of this series will be to build a guide to Vegas for the non-gambler or poker player. For the reader of this blog, this will give the spouse or companion of the player something to do besides shop or complain.

For me, it will be a chance to score a few minor points with the employer. My department is hosting a meeting of a third of its employees in Vegas in mid-March. I suspect many of the attendees will not playing the casino games for more than a few hours so they will want to see the best of Vegas without wasting a lot of time. I sure don’t want them bugging me while I’m sitting at the poker tables.

I’m starting with a must see for any visitor to the strip: The Fountains at the Bellagio. The Bellagio web site ( bills the fountains as the “most ambitious, commanding water feature ever conceived! Bellagio's world-famous fountains will speak to your heart with opera, classical and whimsical music while flirting with your playful nature through their carefully choreographed movements.”

To say that the fountains are just a lake with water jets beneath the surface of the water would be accurate but grossly understated. The water jumps, shoots, sways, and explodes as it jumps from the lake in time with the music. Water can shoot 200’ into the air in some shows. Every show is different. They are a breathtaking union of water, music and light to be sure.

Show times are as follows:

Monday – Friday
3:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Show every 1/2 hour
8:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Show every 15 minutes

Saturday & Sunday
12:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Show every 1/2 hour
8:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Show every 15 minutes

Most tourists watch the show from the sidewalk along Las Vegas Blvd (the strip) which is fine. But the best viewing is from the balcony of the Fontana Bar where you can get close to the show and the audio is excellent, not to mention that you can enjoy drinks while the shows are playing. My favorite show is “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. Any of the Vegas Classics (songs by Elvis, Bobby Darin or a member of the Rat Pack) are also great.