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TR 9/-26-9/28 Las Vegas

Author: Tortoise
Date of Trip: September 2008

Me: 48yo, male and traveling alone. I did the envelope thing and stuck to it, putting $400 into each, $300 for gambling and using the room safe (cost $.50). Here is a not so brief summary from the often drunken chicken scratched notes of perhaps the most insane and wonderful 3 nights I have ever spent anywhere:

Day 1 (9/26/08)

Flight on US Airways from Oakland to LV via Phoenix went fine, much nicer and relaxed than Southwest. Only glitch was some moron with a Texas accent who decided that the space where my little carry-on bag in the overhead was a perfect spot for his steamer trunk; so he removed it. Now he was struck with no place for mine or the other bag he had removed. When I asked him what he was going to do with my bag, he tried stuffing it back in. I told him to just give me the damn thing and flew all three remaining flights with it under my seat.

Found my shuttle line with help of the Gray Line agent and stood there bored and hot for a long time before a large Australian man showed up with his 2 teenage daughters to keep me company. Turned out that they were also staying at The Circus (I know, but it came with the flight). His daughters were complaining about the heat and his response was “You live in Australia!” We had a good laugh at that.

An hour later we were released from the torturous sweat box and into the Fabulous Circus Circus. Line was long, but moved quickly, taking maybe 15 min. I expected much worse at 4pm on a Friday. The woman at the desk was perhaps the nicest desk clerk I have ever met. I had a half dozen questions and she seemed to anticipate each of them, producing pre-marked maps and detailed explanations. She did leave out two details. One, the elevators (which were really fast) were about 3 miles from the desk and that there were two different banks of them for the Skyrise Tower (I had been booked into the Manor, but quickly changed with Travelocity after reading TA reviews…thanks guys). I found my room and it was what I expected. I had stayed at the CC in Reno many times and liked it. This room was almost identical. The desk clerk had asked how many beds I wanted and I told her it didn’t matter as long as it had a nice view (see photo), so she put me on the 22nd floor. Nice view of the Manor, which reminded my of a Women’s Correctional Facility I saw once in New Mexico, except with more parking. I won’t go into too much detail, since no one is going to stay at the CC anyway, but what I really liked was that the window opened up all the way, so that the room was not only cool but also smelled fresh for the whole trip. Clean, and everything worked.

Went out to buy supplies at Slots of Fun, but first went to check out the Carnival bar and drink a toast of Wild Turkey to my hero, Hunter S. Thompson. I was disappointed to find that not only was it in the arcade, so you couldn’t smoke, but it wasn’t even revolving. Sigh. Bought assorted crap at Slots, took it back and primed my self with a couple of Jack and Pepsi cocktails. My destination was the Atomic Liquors and that is when my first LV adventure really began. After asking 12 taxi drivers if they knew of the place and getting a negative response each time, I went across the street to the Riviera to catch the Deuce. Bad idea. After waiting in the line for 20 with a group of very anxious and drunken Brits, we all realized we would either be dead of starvation or thirst before one came along. We all dispersed me back to the Circus and told the driver to take me to the El Cortez Hotel. I would find my way from there. As it turned out my nice Russian driver dropped me off across from the El Cortez Motel which was down the street from the Western. I knew the Atomic was near there, so I said perfect and paid him. I also knew to look for the big pink neon Atomic sign, but couldn’t see one, so I asked the tallest prostitute I have ever seen, who standing on the corner, where the Atomic was. “Right there, honey”, and she pointed down the street. I thanked her and walked half a block to the bar. The neon sign either wasn’t turned on or was broken. I hit the buzzer to let me in and got no response. A local came up and hit the buzzer. I joked with him that I was going to get the crap for buzzing twice. I ordered a whiskey and coke. Strong and only $2. Pabst for $1. The patrons were mainly bikers, old and young down and out locals, and one obvious tourist playing the VP. At 8pm everyone was either already smashed or well on there way. I noticed a family of cockroaches crawling in and out of the crack in the back of my VP machine and took this as an omen to do my first gambling. I didn’t have much luck, but had a good time with an old lady named Carol next to me. She was toothless and had a face like one of those shriveled apple dolls, but was like the Granny you always wished you had (if your dream Granny drank Pabst in a dive bar). Her machine had bugs too, and I suggested we race and bet on them. Her laugh was wonderful. Had my picture taken in Frank’s booth and bid farewell. I was having a great time, but the drinks were just too cheap and I was afraid I won’t make it out on two feet.

Walked a block to the Western, which had seen better days, but damn they were trying hard. Very friendly staff. I played some BJ for about half an hour with a local and some tourist who was betting $60.00 a hand on the $3 min table. I won $27 and felt kind of guilty taking there money. They really could use it.

My walk to downtown was fine. A few couples and locals walking around and no one bothered me. Actually, it was a really peaceful walk with the crickets chirping from the Motel 8 and the weather cooling off.

Checked out some great live bands on Fremont St. and went to the Golden Nugget to gamble. I played Let it Ride and lost my $100 after about 45 min. Played some roulette and hit twice for $105. Played my favorite slot, Wheel of Fortune and won $106. I poked around some more, but knew I was coming back so I grabbed a cab back to the CC. It was my only negative cab experience the whole trip. He took the freeway, probably ripping me off. I won’t make that mistake again. Better to always take the strip, I think.

I hadn’t eaten, so I went over to the Peppermill for Eggs Benedict ($13.95 after tax). Man, did I need that. It was like the Peppermill in Reno, all purples and reds and very plush and quiet. Their lounge has a spa. I got a kick out of the waiter, a real queen, screaming at the Hispanic cooks- “Where’s my damn fruit?” “This toast is burnt!”- the cooks didn’t bat an eye. It was a true floor show. I retired to my comfy bed.

Day 2 (9/27/08)

Up at 7am, but I didn’t make it out of the room until about 11. Nice little feature of the CC is that if you hang the DND sign on your door, they will call to see if you want your room made up. I always told them no, as I feel funny about strange women tripping over my dirty underwear while swilling my Jack Daniels. At least that’s what I imagine goes on when they “clean my room”. I bet my usual $40 3 team baseball parley and took the Deuce to the Venetian to get the players card I signed up for online. Used my $15 free play to win $9. What an amazing place just to wander around in. Always nice to see how the other half shops and they were indeed buying stuff. Found out from a pit boss there that my favorite game, 3-5-7, had been banned by the Nevada Gaming Commission. He couldn’t tell me why, though.

One place I really wanted to see was the flair bartenders at the Carnival Court. I was simply blown away by this place. Absolute insanity with some of the best entertainment I have ever witnessed. Not only do the bartenders juggle, but they do it as part of a kind of running show. They are to bartenders what the Bellagio Fountains are to…well… fountains. Be sure to sit next to a couple of beautiful women for the best view. Such women tend to get the full brunt of their lunacy. Good live music, too. The only downside was the music in-between the live shows. Blasting Hip-Hop which literally shook your seat. It does work with the juggling, so I guess that’s why they do it. Also a fairly young crowd, although there were people of all ages. I didn’t want to leave, but I had to pick up my ticket for the Comedy Pet Show at the Planet Hollywood. I figured anyone who can train cats can have my $26. If you have to take your kids to LV, take them to this show. They will thank you and you will get a kick out of it. Run by a former Russian circus clown, he not only has trained cats, but also dogs and a rat. He and his troupe do a mixture of vaudeville, magic, juggling and circus type site gags. A good value. Book online for a discount.

I found out that one of my baseball games was rained out, so my parlay was two teams. I liked the sports book at the PH, but got an icky feeling about the place in general. People seemed to be way to hip and rude there, both staff and customers. It was the only place in LV I felt out of place. I walked through Bally’s to a little dive bar across the street from the rear entrance. I don’t remember the name, but it was connected to an Italian restaurant and it was really cool and sleazy. Walked to Ellis Island. I really had my heart set on some chicken fried chicken, and put my name on the list but had to settle for on of their fine micro brews (an Amber Ale). I was told 20 minutes to be seated, but after 35 min. I just left. I do want to go back there again, if just to try the other brews and root beer.

The other place I really wanted to see was the Double Down Saloon, so I grabbed a Deuce and took a long walk, finally getting there after asking direction from a bellman and rental car agency on the way. I had their two signature drinks; a bacon martini ($5) (a bartender where I live gave me money to try one) and an a$$ juice ($4 or two for $9). The martini wasn’t as bad as it sounds, not a full blast of bacon but more like bacon flavoring. I don’t like martinis anyway, so what do I know. The a$$ juice was tasty, kind of like Hawaiian Punch and rum. I was expecting more from the place, though. I don’t know more of what, but I was kind of let down. It may have been all the walking and lack of food, but I wasn’t into the vibe. It was like everyone was trying too hard to be exactly unlike the people in the PH. People…they are so funny. I missed the music and may go back and give it another chance next time. I got a cab in 1 minute from there (I think the bartender wanted to get rid of me) and had a really cool Ethiopian driver take me to Harrahs. Went back to the Carnival Court, but it was way to crowded. I had a weird feeling that I was supposed by doing something or be somewhere but I didn’t know what. Went to Casino Royale and hit the number I always play on roulette (11) on the first spin. Worked the $105 down to $60 and left. Found out that my BB parley had won. At the Venetian I found a 50 cent WOF and hit for $200 on three 7’s. Of course I forgot to play my player’s card. Cashed out and took a waiting Deuce back DT. Took about half an hour, but it felt good just to get off my feet. I was starting to get a blister. I really like the Golden Nugget, so I went back there after watching the light show I kept missing on Friday night. Had a really good chicken fried steak at their café. I was playing Let it Ride with an old cowboy type and two young Asian girls. After about a half hour I was almost even when the dealer deals me two sevens, which was cool because I was playing both bonuses. I take back my first bet and she pulls her 1st card… a seven. I stick the cards under my bet and the rest kind of goes in slow motion. I remember her pulling another 7 for my foak, but don’t remember feeling anything. There was shouting and someone slapped me on the back and then I was counting chips. I stuck $600 in my pocket. Two hands later I hit a str. flush for $200. I should have left with what I was playing with too, but overall I left with $715 for my best gambling session ever. Played some WoF between the DT and my hotel, dropped $100, and took the long walk to my room and in bed at 6am.

Day 3 (9/28/08)

There have been many rumors about lots of kids at the Circus Circus. Uh-huh. There’s a Circus there people! If you don’t like children on vacation, by all means avoid this place like the pox. The only time they bothered me was Sunday morning, having to dodge them with a Las Vegas size hangover, their sweet little voices banging against my swollen brain. Actually, their plaintive cries for sweets and souvenirs were not much worse than the constant ringing of the slots. I will say that I never saw one child crying, being dragged, yelled at or bored any where in Las Vegas. This was a fear I had and I’m glad it didn’t materialize.

I cashed my parlay ticket and walked over to the Hilton. I had to work on a callous for my blister. I had heard such good things on TA about the sports book, I decided to place my little $25 wager against the Raiders. We hate the Raiders. The Hilton has it right. Just a few slot islands in the center, but mostly loads of open space to just amble. No one bumping into you and you could really breathe in there. The sports book was awesome…one of the wonders of the world and the bartenders are very cool. I would think about staying there next time if it wasn’t so out of the way. Yes, I meant staying at the bar, not the rooms.

Took a cab from the Hilton to Harrah’s. Best $11 I ever spent. My driver Frank forgot to turn the meter on until we were out of the long driveway. I asked him how long he had been driving and he told me 3 days. LOL! When I told him Harrah’s, he said, “that’s a long ways down, isn’t it?” I said, “Uh, no, it’s just past the Wynn, I think.” He said he was still trying to find his way around. A nicer man you could never meet. He had just moved to LV from New Jersey. He had a son in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. We talked about cab driving (I used to drive one) and he clearly was loving life. I didn’t even care when he pulled into the Venetian by mistake. He had turned his meter off while we still on the Strip anyway. I tipped him $3 and wished him well.

Back to the Carnival Court bar. I could live there, but only stayed a couple of hours. Went to Casino Royale and spun the slot for free play or gift and got $100 in free play. It didn’t pay out and dumped $60 into their WoF. I went to the Venetian to play some BJ, but the limits were like all $15 min, so I went back to my 50 cent WOF and played for about 20 min. before hitting for $328 on one spin. The woman next to me had to explain why I had won so much. Of course I had forgot to put in my player’s card again. I know, people like me shouldn’t be allowed near those things.

Took the Deuce back DT. I found a balloon hat on the bus and put it on a little Japanese boy on the sidewalk at the bus stop. I left his parents bowing to me. I pretty much followed my past DT routine as far as gambling, except just about broke even that night. I did go up to Fitzgeralds 2nd floor bar, which has a great view of the show below. Got free beads and chance for a raffle at La Bayou, a tiny slot casino. It was probably the only place in Las Vegas I didn’t feel safe…and that was with the security standing there. At the rear of the Bayou they sell these slushies and I almost ordered one with Everclear (200 proof grain alcohol) but I was afraid I might end up like some of the patrons. 3 20-somthings guys were yelling, slapping each other and spilling their slushies and beer everywhere. When they started harassing the female patrons, security came and had a polite chat with them. They calmed down a little but actually I can think of worse fates than getting 86’ed from the Bayou. I needed to catch my shuttle at 9 the next morning, so I called it a night took a very solemn cab ride to the Hilton, where I cashed in my football ticket. Played a little VP at the bar and won almost exactly what the cab ride cost. This was pretty much the benchmark of my trip. Spend a little and win a little. Walking back from the Hilton to the CC, I caught up with a guy walking ahead of me. He was scruffy looking, the kind of guy most would cross the street to avoid, but growing up in Berkeley I knew he wasn’t a threat. He was either a local who couldn’t locate a razor and a set of clean clothes or homeless. I think the former judging by his shoes. We talked about the “fish hooks” Las Vegas puts out to bait you and the bait they use. In the end, he asked me for a cigarette and we wished each other a good night. A really nice guy, one of many I met.

Back at the CC, It hit the WoF strong. I had an idea of how much I was prepared to lose and stuck to it, but set the limit too high maybe. I went from one machine to another and back to the other one. Plenty of spins, but no big ones. In the end I put back maybe $160. I could have used the money I spent, of course, but even more I lost a lot of much needed sleep playing those Wheels. Shuttle the next morning was right on time and went back home to the day to day with a heavy heart and liver.

I probably shouldn’t give advice since you are all grownup boys and girls, but for anyone who has never been to Las Vegas:

Be careful. This place EATS money. If you like to gamble, it will eat it even faster. Unless you have unlimited funds, set a budget and stick to it. I was lucky and that’s all. The only game of “skill” I played was Black Jack and for all of my sessions, that game probably took me for about $120. I was lucky that I could take cabs whenever I wanted, eat what I wanted and tip everything on two legs as much as I wanted. I saw people at the tables with hundreds more than I would ever win stiff cocktail waitresses. Don’t be that person. Just resign yourself to the fact that these people exist only to serve you, to make your holiday pleasant, and if they deserve it, should be compensated.

What I would do differently:

I would take someone with me. Traveling alone was wonderful. I went where I wanted when I wanted. I didn’t have to think about anyone else’s needs, wants or deal with their problems. Yet, there was no one to share my great wins with or laugh with when something absurd happened (and it’s happening all the time).

Stay longer and gamble less. Another two days/nights would have been perfect. Although I won, I don’t assume I’ll to be that lucky next time and there were so many things I missed (Like the Pinball Hall of fame).

Take a cab from the airport. Stay Downtown.

In the end I broke almost exactly even, counting the two credit charges I made to buy supplies at the Slots of Fun. All I paid for was my hotel and airfare. I can’t wait to go back.

Las Vegas made me feel invincible, and invisible. It made me feel powerful, yet very small. Hunter had it right that the American Dream resides there. Unabashed, unstoppable capitalism honed to perfection. But there is also the dream with a small “d”. It’s a place we can be someone else for a few days, while being ourselves at the same time. We can escape reality while still being in it. That’s Las Vegas.

Till soon,


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