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Christmas and New Year: Las Vegas Trip Report

Just returned to the UK after a long trip covering Christmas and the New Year. It was a relief and a delight to be back in Vegas – well worth all the testing and administrative hassles. This post is an expanded version of a trip report I posted over at Vegas Message Board.

It is split into three. First, my random thoughts and observations. Some are simply reports, others more tongue in cheek. Next an overview of the hotels along with pros / cons. Finally, some highlights and recommendations.

As with previous trips I did not play any poker.

Random Insights / Observations

  • Trip Length: Planet Erika and I usually aim for eight or so days per trip. This is enough to make the gruelling ten-hour flights worthwhile. This time the trip combined my Birthday, our Wedding Anniversary, Xmas, and New Year. It was a full two weeks, which as it turned out was too long. Even with a couple of ‘light’ days, our bodies are not used to that much drinking, rich food, and late nights. Options for future trips include a mix of Las Vegas and healthy outdoor stuff – let’s see.
  • Themed Slots: Walking Dead 2 was on our hit list ahead of the trip. We searched multiple MGM properties and a couple of Caesars ones with no sightings – before finding it in Cosmo. Over the trip, it became clear that the proportion of licensed slots with movie / music or TV themes was way down at both MGM and Caesars. There are exceptions including the Hobbit and 007. I will do a separate post in the casino section here at SNG Planet to cover the newer games soon.
  • Gambling Psychology: After 13+ years in the industry, I know full well how slot software works. This includes RNGs, RTP%, volatility variations – along with that oh so human propensity to map patterns onto completely random outcomes. After hitting a downswing for the first eight days, my insight is that losing streaks take more away from the enjoyment of a trip than my rational self should have allowed. Gambling is only one reason we love Vegas, and it is separately budgeted. In theory only the long run matters. Yet, it was a constant nagging cloud over our activities. Things turned around in style late in the trip – providing some welcome relief.
  • New Resorts: Resorts World was only a few stories high when we were last in Vegas. This huge structure is now open. We had a great view of it from the Encore. I’m unsure exactly how / where this place fits in after a visit. It was clean, the design is impressive and the venues, restaurants, and gaming look top notch… for me it felt a little flat. Let’s give it time. Circa (Downtown) was the complete opposite. It had an immediate atmosphere, was adults-only (see my thoughts on Kids below!) and looked amazing. The Legacy Bar is now on my hit list for every visit. Never got to see the new Virgin Hotel. Would like to see it, along with OYO, though this is not a big priority.

Vegas Vicky at Circa

  • Increased Prices: Everything is more expensive than before. This was the most obvious in lower-end restaurants. For example, we popped into PF Chang for a hangover-busting lunch (don’t judge, it was a nasty hangover!). Just a few dishes, coffee, coke and tip and the bill was almost $100. Similar experiences in spots like Primrose, House of Blues and Jardin. The final prices felt too high compared to the value offered. Higher-end spots and cocktails were also more expensive.
  • Kids in Vegas: Children in Las Vegas polarises opinion. Instead of making a blanket statement, I have come to believe that not all parents are equal when it comes to this. Take examples like the parents at 1am with half-finished yard-long daiquiris and cigarettes, tugging sleepy, bored kids along. The couple doom-scrolling their social media in a long checkout line, oblivious that their toddler was having an epic and loud meltdown. The families walking boldly into bars with kids in tow, forcing the staff into the awkward spot of asking them to leave. The kids marauding around hotel lobbies, crashing into our luggage. Another having a tantrum, laying on the floor, kicking and punching the ground in the line for Beatles Love tickets… Let’s hear it for the responsible parents that balance family and adult activities in Vegas – I know there are many.
  • Style: Imagine wearing a $20k purse, $10k shoes, $30k in designer clothes - yet still looking like a five-year-old who snuck into mum’s bedroom to dress up in her clothes… Now multiply this by a thousand visitors, mostly from one *cough* newly rich country. I’m no fashion expert though this provided a ton of entertaining people watching.
  • Wynncore: Our first stay at this property was a disappointment. The (Encore) room was big and stylish. Though had multiple minor issues. I’m renaming this place ‘Snootcore.’ I expected class and got smugness. It was as if they were so sure they were superior, that they had forgotten that this still required special service. This was summed up for me by the snooty form letter I got from their customer service after providing a balanced though far from impressed feedback survey… On the positive side, we discovered a couple of excellent restaurants here.
  • Masks / Enforcement: Masks were a not big issue overall. Enforcement was mixed. With ‘nose out’ super common. Masks at table games were strictly enforced. My only gripe with this concerned enforcement being selective. One example was on NYE. I’m not the type to overly worry about a less than polite instruction to cover up my nose. What annoyed me was that three maskless gentlemen of a ‘certain demographic’ right next to me were completely ignored. Guess a skinny middle-aged guy is far less likely to argue…
  • Testing / Travel Restrictions: Test to fly out, test to fly back, test on landing and ugly apps / forms to fill were manageable though not enjoyable. The pre-trip stress was bigger than expected. I had an emotional reaction when we took off that combined elation, relief, and a welling up of anger at all that stress plus two years of travel restrictions. I thought I was a little tougher… hey, you live and learn. In a plot twist, the return before flying home test requirement just got cancelled.
  • MyVegas Rewards: This is an app which lets you collect gold coins playing slots (not real money). You can buy play money chips too. I have mixed feelings about it. Some rewards are great. I got $125 total free play, a 2 for 1 Bellagio buffet and some free drinks. Planet Erika got a bunch of rewards too. My gripe is based on psychology. Somehow not using the vouchers seems like a waste. This led to a less than stellar meal at Lupo (to get free wine), and drinks in bars which were decidedly average. There are some deals to be had, I need to make sure that the ‘voucher tail does not wag the trip dog’ next time.
  • What to do with Uncashed TITOs: We always end up with a collection of uncashed TITOs (the tickets you get from / feed into slots). Now many dispensers are no longer giving change, the collection of them was even bigger. While you could cash them at the cage, there is an alternative. In the Lady Gaga costume museum at Park MGM, there is a charity collection box for them and cash donations. You can find out about which projects get supported there too.

Hotels: Pros and Cons

We stayed in four hotels: Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Encore and Park MGM.

Each had positives and negatives. Here is my summary for anyone thinking of staying in them. As an aside, I still rate Vdara as my favourite hotel.

Mandalay Bay:

Pros: An amazing room, we had a bigger than average room with a separate sitting area. This looked directly up the Strip. There are tons of food options, the Foundation Room bar and the casino is big and well laid out. Props to the staff too.

Cons: The tram to Excalibur (easy reach of NYNY and MGM Grand) was not running early in the week. While the cost of an Uber was modest, this meant we felt isolated. It is possible to walk, through the Luxor. That is just too much hassle 2x or 3x a day. I would book MB again, though only once the tram is running.

Pic below was the view from our room.

Vegas Trip Report Christmas 2021




Pros: A fantastic location in an iconic hotel. We had a ‘Resort’ room, with a view North of TI, Trump tower and Wynn/ Encore. A separate elevator for our two floors was a boost. Had a great Sushi meal at Ottoro and saw the Beatles Love.

Cons: The bottleneck at the elevators was painful (and kid-full) most days. The casino was loud, getting into that vicious circle where everyone puts the slots to full volume at once. A little too smoky too.


Pros: Big room with a separated living room, great views North down the strip and a brilliant bathroom. Alexa in the room could close the drapes and change the temperature. Excellent bars (Overlook and Parasol Down at the Wynn, and even the Encore Lobby bar were great). Top restaurants too.

Cons: Wynn and Encore are known as ‘Wynncore,’ and after this visit I have renamed them ‘Snootcore.’ The staff were smug, and not half as wonderful as they thought they were. Add a lot of ashtray dirt on the slots, small issues with the room and the most unhelpful concierge I ever met, and we will not be heading back any time soon.

Park MGM:

Pros: Excellent location, attached to the Aria, opposite MGM Grand and next door to NYNY. Hop on the tram to Bellagio. Non-smoking casino. Eataly – especially the wine bars there, plus Juniper, Mama Rabbit and Nomad cocktail bars. Staff here were excellent too. Will stay again, probably at the top-floors in Nomad.

Cons: Smaller room, which was noisy. The connecting room door let a lot of noise leak through. It was not helped by the cleaners throwing the entire contents of adjoining rooms out of the window, then constructing a new bathroom from scratch each morning. Well, that is how it sounded at least.

Fleur Restaurant at Mandalay Bay

Trip Highlights and Recs

  • Mayfair Supper Club: Everything about this place was excellent. The food (prime rib to die for), show, service, cocktails. We had seats on with a view of the back of the stage and the Bellagio fountains. It is a higher priced spot, though 100% worth it.
  • Cipriani: This Italian at Wynn had an old-school service which is hard to beat. Their food was amazing too.
  • La Cave: This was the surprise of the trip. It is a small plate spot at Wynn. Delicious food and super-helpful with my allergies – while less expensive than many mid-range places. I even got to drink some Hungarian white wine. 
  • Giada: If the universe conspired to make me choose only one starter for evermore, it would be the bacon wrapped dates from Giada.
  • Legacy Club: Cocktails on the top of Circa was a trip highlight. The bartenders were fantastic, knowledgeable, and entertaining in equal measure. Add the view and the drinks for a must-visit bar.
  • Park MGM: We stayed at Mandalay Bay, Encore and Mirage before finishing the trip at Park. Loved it. The location, smoke-free casino and staff were excellent. Plan is to give Nomad a shot next time.
  • Beatles Love: Second time seeing this show – after a five-year gap – was just as good the second time around.
  • Area 15: This was a cool spot, with a lot of things to see. We did the Picasso edit, I meant Rembrandt immersive thing (unsure) and Omega Mart (excellent, though one and done).
  • New Slots: Of the new (to me) games I enjoyed the Cashman Bingo titles, the ‘bag game’ slots and the Hobbit. No luck on the new Buffalo Link (or the Wild Wild version), though can see the potential with them.
  • Cocktails: We made a deliberate choice to up our drink quality and lower the quantity. This mostly worked on the quality side! I drank Old Fashioned cocktails all over the Strip. Erika was more adventurous. We normally drink French or Italian reds and enjoyed trying out some Napa Valley wines.

After eight trips now, the best times come when meeting new people or sharing drinks with friends. Next trip is pencilled in for the early summer, and I’m going to come out of my (slightly neurotic) shell and make sure that trip is more social.

Until next time!


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