Monday, May 27, 2013

myVegas Baby! Day 4 & 5: Mirage and Home

Cleaning the Mirage Aquarium

Wednesday is High Tea at Bellagio day. We grabbed coffee and pastries at The Roasted Bean in the Mirage retail area and then decide to wander around and try to hit it big. On the way to parking ramp we notice the divers cleaning the Mirage aquarium. Pretty cool.

We buzz over to the Hard Rock, play a little, and browse around their memorabilia displays for a while. As always, I'm amazed by the number of Gretsch White Falcon guitars scattered among the Les Pauls, Strat's and occasional PRS. Unfortunately as a definitely non-professional player, I've never been able to come up with an adequate excuse for buying one.

Around noon we head back to the Mirage, drop off the car and stroll down to Bellagio. As usual our myVegas redemption goes smoothly and we waste some time playing various random machines until our 2:00 reservation time.

In addition to tea of course (each of us gets an individual pot) there are the sandwiches:

The pastries:

and the scones:

Of course there are butter, clotted cream, and jam for the scones. It was terrific. I haven't really gotten too worked up (like some people) about the myVegas changes lately, but I will definitely miss this one on our trip next year.

Now, if, like me, you happen to know that the Bellagio fountain shows start at 3 o'clock, and if, like me you made your tea reservation for 2:00 chances are good you'll be walking out of the Bellagio just as the first show of the day begins:

No Crowds!
Thursday is our last full day and we've got Nine Fine Irishmen reservations at 7:00 so the day is wide open for for losing money. Miraculously, we don't. We don't really win anything, but after almost a week of looking at our losing-est  trip ever, it pretty nice to be entertained for a change.

As dinner time starts to approach we decide to make a concerted search for Viva myVegas QR codes. The one in the Mirage is easy to find - it's right outside the high limit slot room. We grab our car and head down to New York New York. And BOOM! There's another QR code in the parking lot right at the entrance to the hotel.

All of a sudden we're seeing them everywhere: the "Center Bar", in front of registration, and at the entrance to the Zumanity theater. Since we have some time we decide to walk over to Excalibur and see if we can find any there. Sure enough, there's one in front of the Dick's Last Resort Margarita window. We don't see any others and it's timeto head back to Nine Fine Irishmen anyway.

In the past we've really enjoyed Nine Fine Irishmen. Service was slow, and the food graded out about C-. Beth's Chicken Pot Pie was good, if bland, with plenty of chicken chunks and vegetables. My Shepard's Pie was a disaster - basically hamburger in gravy with few traces of vegetation under a cap of over-beaten mashed potatoes. A second Guinness eases the disappointment and settle up and make our way back to the car and the Mirage for our final night.

Once there we log int to the somewhat unreliable Mirage WIFI to see what we got from the QR Codes. We didn't score any non-chip prizes, but the chip rewards did come to 31,000 chips. I did manage to make note of one of the prize wheels so you can get an idea of what's available to win:

Cognac Tasting at Andre's
10K Chips
50 Loyalty Points
250 Chips
500 Chips
1 Criss Angel ticket
10K Chips
250 Loyalty Points
2500 Chips

Friday's flight back to Philly isn't until 11:30 so we have plenty of time for breakfast. We head down to the Pepper Mill, a Las Vegas classic that we've just never seemed to make time for. I can say their reputation for friendly service and huge portions is well deserved.

Ham, Eggs, Hashbrowns

French Toast, Eggs, Bacon & Sausage
I almost finished my ham and managed about half the rest. Our waitress cheerfully kept the coffee coming and after an hour or so of battle, we gave in and grabbed a cab back to the Mirage to check out:

All told and including the room downgrade at Mirage we cashed in about $1566.00 in free stuff. The more restrictive myVegas rules and loss of the high end rooms means we probably won't be able to manage this a second time. But it sure was fun! We'll just have to wait and see what they have available next April when we head back to Las Vegas from the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gardening 2013: May Update

Nearly to the roof this year!
This spring has been a little hard on the garden. It was very hot early, then got wet, and now we're on a period with more seasonal daytime temperatures but night time lows in the low 40's.

That hasn't bothered the cippolini onions or the cima di rapa in the front bed. They're watered using 1/4" drip line every 2nd row.

Just about ready
We'll probably harvest the cima di rapa in another couple days and make pizza with it. Valley Shepard Creamery in Reading Terminal Market makes mozarella daily on-site so I'll probably pick up half a pound on the way home from work Tuesday. (Which in turn means making a batch of dough Monday evening.)

San Marzano Tomatoes

As you can see, we're using red plastic "mulch" again this year and each plant has it's own drip line with a 1 gallon per hour emitter. There are a couple rows of peas on the right - they get plenty of eater from the gutter garden just visible at the top right.

Unfortunately, the eggplant and peppers I started are way behind. I may visit some garden stores next week and buy larger plants. It's annoying, but these things happen now and then. And I still have to pop some zucchini seeds under the black plastic in the front "bamboo bed".

mVegas Baby! Day 3: The Mirage

We Love myVegas!
Tuesday morning we pack up and checkout from Mandalay Bay. Unfortunately, a 10:00 AM checkout followed by a 3:00 PM check in time at The Mirage means we have some time to waste. But this is Las Vegas so there's plenty to do.

The first step is to head north and drop the car in the Mirage parking lot. Then breakfast. The Mirage is more or less across the street from the Venetian and in the Venetian is one of the best French restaurants in Las Vegas: Bouchon.

Bouchon is rather well known for their breakfast offerings so we head across the street and make our way to the restaurant which is located in a sort of out of the way corner of the hotel. We're seated immediately (it's about 9:30 - way early by Las Vegas standards).

Jambon et Oeufs
Beth had the ham and eggs. A thick slice of grilled ham, poached eggs,  pommes lyonaise and toast.

Bouchon French Toast
And that's my french toast - brioche layered with caramelized apples with some lightly sauteed apple slices on top. I had some breakfast sausage as well. After plenty of coffee we're ready to hit the casino.

But wait! What's this?

Cool! They're making some sort of advertisement. We watch various makeup and hair engineers poke at the actress but we can't quite make out what it's actually for. So off to the casino to lose some more money. We play for a couple hours, snag a few "free" Bellinis and actually manage to come out about even. That would soon change - this is destined to be our worst day of the trip.

Eventually 2:00 rolls around and we decide to see if our room is ready. So off it's back to the Mirage. No line thank goodness! But our luck doesn't hold. Not only is our room not ready, but the Tower Suite we'd reserved is not going to happen. Bummer. But heck, it's free and we combine the two reservations so we don't have to move again. I give the clerk my cell number, she gives me the key cards to the as yet unready room and we wander off.

We've got dinner at the Tender Steakhouse in Luxor tonight so a big lunch is out. Not wanting to go far we head over to BLT, the fancy burger place in The Mirage, for an appetizer and a couple adult milk shakes.  Finally about 4:30 I get the text hat our room is ready and up we go. We're both tired and a little cranky from the long wait so we just crash in the room until it's time to head down to Luxor for our myVegas Tender Dinner for Two.

Tender Steakhouse
Tender is a much nicer steakhouse than The Steakhouse at Camelot. hat fact is born out not just in ambiance but also in the more sophisticated menu, better executed sides, and a very, very nice wine list.

Tonight we skip the cocktails in favor of soup to start. Beth has the wild mushroom (right) and I go for the lobster bisque (left). Both are darn good but the lobster get the edge.

Once again we go for two sides this time creamed spinach and "Lyonaise" potatoes. The spinach is excellent, though topping it with cheese doesn't really add anything to the dish. I'm accustomed to a more traditional style of Pommes Lyonaise, but the cheesy gratin is tasty, if a bit heavy.

Instead of another prime rib I chose the more reasonably sized filet. As at Excalibur, the meat is perfectly cooked.

Beth, on the other hand decides to go wild and try the game sampler. It is by far the winner of the four steakhouse entrees we've had: "Nilgai antelope osso buco, axis venison medallion & wild boar loin with farro, fig chutney & huckleberry venison reduction." All are products of Broken Arrow Ranch. Of the three items, the antelope osso bucco was, we felt, the best.

Once again, we retired, overfed by a large margin, to our Tower King at the Mirage.

Day 1
Day 2
Days 4 & 5

Saturday, May 25, 2013

myVegas Baby! Day 2: Mandalay Bay

Mandalay Bay Wave Pool
Waking up way too early (still on Philly time) we make good use of the big shower and then lounge around until restaurants start to open for breakfast. (Sadly, the era of 24 hour cafes in Las Vegas seems to be coming to an end.) The in-room WiFi works well and I use the Photon Browser on my iPad to collect our myVegas daily spins and send gifts.

Eventually 7:00 AM rolls around and we wander out to find something to eat. Since it's convenient we decide to hit Raffles, Mandalay Bay's formerly 24 hour cafe that's now open less than a third of the day:  7:00 AM - 2:30 PM. I have the French Toast and Beth goes with Eggs Benedict. And of course coffee. Service is excellent and the food is fine but Raffles is a bit pricey - if we were paying for more than a few meals this trip I think we'd make an effort to locate something a bit cheaper.

After topping up our gambling funds (our bank refunds ATM fees so we can ignore the $5.99 fee the casino ATMs charge) we look around the Mandalay Bay casino for some less than ruinous video poker pay tables. Finding none, we decide to make our way toward Bellagio and Mirage where we'll be redeeming our lunch buffet and Love rewards.

The MB-Luxor-Excal tram wasn't running yet so we strolled through the retail area to Luxor where to our surprise we find some quarter 9-5 Jacks or Better VP (98.45 %) just in front of the steakhouse we'd be eating Wednesday. So we sit down to play a bit, lose pretty quickly and decide to move on through to Excalibur (which is already busy). We make it up to Monte Carlo and hop on the tram to Bellagio

There's no line at the MLife desk and we have our buffet pass in a couple minutes. We wander through Bellagio and cross over to Caesars Palace. Window shopping in the Forum Shoppes slows the journey, but it doesn't take too long to get to the Mirage.

Redeeming show tickets is like the hotel room rewards. You make a reservation by phone and instead of the check-in desk you go to the box office to pick up your tickets. Once again, no line (hey, it's still early) and no problems.

At this point we have three or four hours before we can reasonably eat lunch so we decide to walk the east side of the strip. As you may be aware, Caesars has a couple big construction projects  going on.

The Imperial Palace has been renamed "The Quad" and is getting a full makeover of the public spaces. Unfortunately, the rooms are still pretty shabby and are not scheduled for renovation at this time. The exterior is being re-skinned and the main entrance has been moved to the north side of the building, facing Carnival Court:

Standing in front of the Carnival Court Bar looking South West
The Quad's casino was a big mess with new machines still going in. It does look pretty nice and obviously it's way cleaner than it used to be.

New Machines in The Quad
The main part of the construction is happening in an area that will be a pedestrian mall called "Linq". The left side of the picture is what used to be O'Sheas (apparently there will be a new O'Sheas somewhere in the Linq). In the far background you can make out the legs of the big observation wheel.
The Linq
The other big construction project is a gut rehab of Bill's. They say it will re-open early next year as Gansevoort Las Vegas.

Bill's Gut Rehab
Eventually Beth suggests it might be time to maybe start drifting in the direction of lunch so we cross back over LVB and stroll up to Bellagio. The Buffet reward includes a line pass, so we skip a depressingly small line and head in. 

The Asian Plate

Assorted Asian style items. The sushi rolls were better than average for a buffet but that rice takes up a lot of valuable stomach space. The spring roll was tasty but drippingly wet and a mess to eat. The pork bun had a rather leathery exterior and too little filling. The best of the batch was the noodle salad though it could have been a bit spicier.

The Meat Plate
Chicken, pork ribs, flank steak, mushrooms, and creamed spinach. You'll get better ribs over at Ellis Island's barbeque. Though meaty, they had an odd dry texture I didn't care for. The chicken was much better, well cooked and juicy. The flank steak was also nicely done. Both sides were good.

Dessert Plate
The only disappointment on this plate was the little pecan pie at the top left; the filling had nearly hardened into pecan brittle. For some reason the standout was the oatmeal raisin cookie.

After lunch we, well, went back to the room to take a nap.

Cirque du Soleil Love. What can I say? We're of the age that makes us suckers for anything Beatles. It was, in fact, the first CdS show we saw in Las Vegas and to be perfectly honest we were planning to see it again even if we had to pay. It's great and probably the only CdS show that has a coherent plot. See it if you can.

Being a Monday night it's not a packed house and after we locate our seats I head back out to the lobby to grab a couple of adult beverages: a Here Comes the Sun (Captain Morgan Rum, mango, orange and pineapple juice) and a Can't Buy Me Love (Absolute Citron, lemonade, and cranberry juice). Yes, they're expensive but we just cashed in $341 worth of free tickets. They're also delicious and large. The big ones have three shots (or more - tip the bartender when you place your order) so the price isn't really outrageous by LV standards.

After the show we gamble a bit in Mirage and come across these:

Silver Strikes in The Mirage
Those slot machines are "ancient" Silver Strike machines. They're quarter machines with a 3 coin bet. The cool thing is that if you hit certain combinations you get a  "Silver Strike" token like this:

Silver Strike from The Palms
You can collect 'em or cash 'em in at the cage like any other chip. There are less than a dozen of these mechanical machines left in Las Vegas and the manufacturer no longer supplies parts so it's another part of somewhat "old" Vegas to check out if you can.

Since I have to drive back to Mandalay Bay we wrap up the evening early (we're finally on Las Vegas Time) and head back "home".

Day 1
Day 3
Days 4 & 5

Monday, May 20, 2013

myVegas Baby! Day 1: Mandalay Bay

As we usually do, we took US Airways Flight 1797 from PHL to LAS Sunday morning. And as usual we got to LAS about half an hour early. That turned out to be a good thing because there was a lengthy line at Budget car rental. There were no lines at the other rental agencies so that's a lesson learned: pay a few bucks more and skip the 45 minute line.

Our first hotel this trip was Mandalay Bay a short drive up Las Vegas Boulevard. We turn the car over to the valet and head to check-in where, miraculously, our room is ready. Very nice room as you can see. The "playpen couch" (yes, that's what Mandalay Bay calls the odd square couch partly visible in the foreground) is sort of odd. The backs at the seating corners are too low to be comfortable for reading and get in the way of other activities.

The bathroom is plenty large with a double vanity, shower, and spa tub. The toilet has it's own little room, complete with telephone.

The spa tub easily fits two somewhat chubby middle aged folks like ourselves. It takes about 8 minutes to fill, so factor that into your planning.

Still being on Philadelphia time we were pretty hungry so we wandered around Mandalay Bay looking for something light. Lo and behold! Red Square had just opened for Happy Hour!

Smoked Salmon "Pizza"

Siberian "Nachos"
Most of the small plates were $9, bottled beer $4, and cocktails $6. We polished off the two plates above with a couple beers - just enough to make it to our 7:00 dinner reservation. (And yes, the place is really dark and I was "that guy" who fired off the flash.)

The Steakhouse at Camelot
Sunday dinner was the first of our myVegas food rewards: a $150 credit at Excalibur's Steakhouse at Camelot. The picture makes it look pretty snazzy, but it's definitely not a fancy place.

Service was very good and the meat arrived as ordered. The sides were just OK - there's not much you can do to screw up asparagus but why would you slice the mushrooms?  Since the beef is roughly on par with what you can get at any large grocery store (USDA "choice" according to the menu) and the atmosphere is "family" this isn't a place I'd seek out a second time.

As we left the restaurant we decided to hang out in the casino a while - after all, we were using a couple thousand dollars worth of comps. I must say, the contrast between Mandalay Bay's casino and the Excalibur was night and day. Mandalay Bay was quiet, with an empty feeling. Excalibur was packed with people having a good time. So we gambled a while, lost about $80 and were ready to head off to bed (still on Philadelphia time).

On the way out, we came across the first of a number of Viva myVegas QR codes on a sign outside Dick's Last Resort restaurant. These codes are scattered around several of the MGM resorts International casinos. You scan 'em with the the iOS Viva My Vegas app to wine small prizes, mostly game chips for the myVegas Facebook game.

Coming Soon: Day 2 Mandalay Bay, Bellagio Buffet, and Love!

Day 2
Day 3
Days 4 & 5

Saturday, May 18, 2013

MyVegas Baby! Part 1

It's gonna be free baby! (almost)

So late last year we took a short vacation in Las Vegas and got some free food courtesy a Facebook game called myVegas. We got more free stuff this time... a lot more. Here's how it went down:

November 2012

We get back from our vacation and Beth signs up for Facebook and starts playing myVegas. We both become daily players to maximize the number of "loyalty points" (the myVegas equivalent of cash) we'd be able to accumulate.

December 2012

Over the holiday break (I had to use up a week of vacation time) I get bored and buy some chips with real money. $39 worth. You can play for free - there's no requirement to spend money. This would have an interesting side effect a soon.

January 2013

By the 15th (remember the date) I've accumulated enough loyalty points to purchase three nights in a Mirage Tower Suite. I "purchase" them (in the form of two rewards: a 2 night and a 1 night stay) using up almost all my accumulated loyalty points and we begin to plan our vacation. Our usual trip runs five nights, so we want two more nights.

February 2013

I finally accumulate enough points to purchase two nights in a Mandalay Bay Spa Suite and do so. Meanwhile MGM Resorts International has realized people have become myVegas maniacs and they begin to make it more difficult to accumulate chips to play the games.

March 2013

Bad News: myVegas makes it even harder to accumulate chips to play the games and announces that for all reward purchases made after January 15 players will only be able to redeem three in any 30 day period. Good News: I can purchase 2 more since I bought my first 2 before the the deadline.

By now Beth has a ton of loyalty points saved up and we decide she'll purchase food. We buy $150 steak house meals at Tender in the Luxor and The Steakhouse at Camelot in Excalibur. I use some of my accumulated points to buy two passes to the Bellagio lunch buffet.


myVegas introduces another new twist on the game. If you've purchased chips, you can redeem not three but as many as ten rewards in any 30 day period. Now I have two more rewards instead of one and we buy Beth $5 worth of chips so she can purchase two more rewards.

I use my accumulated loyalty points to buy 2 $170.50 tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show Love. I still have one more reward to purchase and Beth has two. I book our hotel reservations by the old fashioned telephone method.

April 2013

We wrap up our reward purchases. Beth buys a $50 dining credit at Nine Fine Irishmen in New York New York and we each buy High Tea (technically afternoon tea, but they didn't ask me when they named it) at the Petrossian Bar in Bellagio. I make restaurant reservations and we're all set.

At this point we've purchased:

3 nights at Mirage $945
2 nights at Mandalay Bay $366
2 Steakhouse Dinners $300
Bellagio High Tea (2) $70
Dinner at Nine Fine Irishmen $50
Bellagio Lunch Buffet for 2 $43
2 Tickets to Love $341
Total $2115

All for a grand total of $45 in actual money ($39 and $5 chip purchases) and maybe an hour total each day playing the myVegas game.

Coming Soon:

We go to Las Vegas! Cheap Flights! Gambling!  Food! Shows! (and a small bummer)

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Days 4 & 5


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