Travel Fanboy

NFR Trip Report: Take 2

This is the second year in a row I was out in Vegas during the NFR extravaganza. I have to say, if there’s any large group or convention you want to get stuck with, it’s the cowboys. They’re polite and, at least to my untrained eye, don’t seem to cause much of a concern for hotel or casino security. Not like those EDM kids.

As always, I took Southwest Airlines to get to Vegas from my home state of Michigan. Both flights actually arrived over 30 minutes early. This is one of the main reasons I take SW. I rarely, if ever have problems with delays or cancelations. I can’t say the same for any other domestic carrier. I’ve actually had more SW flights arrive early than late. Of course, this is just my experience, but I know others share my sentiments.

I landed in the late afternoon on Thursday and went to check-in at NYNY. The line was short and the front desk agent was incredibly nice. She said my name multiple times. This is standard resort etiquette, an attempt to make guests feel welcome. It works. See if you notice it on your next trip. I was only staying for one night on an outright comp via myVegas. I still had to pay the roughly $30 resort fee, but no matter. Now that myVegas has been around a while, the redemption process is painless. The agent even complimented me on getting the free night. I asked what checkout time was. She said it was at 11 am, but offered to push it to 12 for me for free. I didn’t ask her to do this, but she took the initiative. I love this. It starts a trip off on the right foot.

My dad and I had an hour or so to kill before we were meeting my sister for dinner (oh yeah, this was sort of a family trip), so we hung out in the NYNY casino. My dad developed an affinity for the Beetlejuice slot machine for no other reason than he won $70 after a few pulls. Now he’s hooked. Slot design for the win. For the record, and maybe this is a tad embarrassing, NYNY is probably one of my favorite Vegas resorts. It may be hard to pinpoint why. I like that it’s still rocking the theme. It would be hard not to. Luxor, as we know, tried, but is now a bit of an enigma in terms of interior decorating. There are no notable restaurants at NYNY that get me excited. Tom’s Urban seems ok. Shake Shack may be a tad overrated. The steakhouse is a steakhouse. I like Nine Fine Irishman. I’m not sure it’s what has helped me developed my fancy for NYNY. More, I just like a good pint of Guinness. The casino, and maybe it’s just me, seems a bit more smokey than other MGM resorts. Even Excalibur, which I’ll talk about in a bit. I don’t know why I like NYNY so much. Inexpensive table games help. They even have a few playable VP machines. I guess I’m just a sucker for themes.

The room was surprisingly nice, especially for a myVegas reward. I was in one of the Park Avenue rooms, which is their basic offering. It’s a small 350 sq ft., but fine for a solo traveler or couple who don’t tend to spend a lot of time in their room. The room felt clean. I didn’t break out a blacklight or the white gloves, those are only for special occasions, but it passed the eye test.

For dinner, we went to Yard House at Town Square, just a few clicks south of Mandalay Bay. It’s nearly identical to the Strip location. Upscale bar food done quite well. I went with my nephews to meet Santa at Town Square. He didn’t really acknowledge me or my overwhelming Vegas fame, so whatever.

Being a travel day for my father and me, we laid somewhat low the rest of the night. We took a walk to Aria to play a few slots here or there. He’s a slot guy, not me. He decided, around midnight, that it was time to head to bed. I took the opportunity to walk around a bit. I can’t sleep much when I’m in Vegas. I finished my night at the Cosmo Chandelier Bar. If you like cocktails and video poker and haven’t been, you really should. Also, trust your bartenders. The drinks are still outright comped at Chandelier Bar, even the handcrafted cocktails. Don’t order a Coors like the dudes next to me. Trust the bartenders and let them work off book. This was advice I garnered from Five Hundy By Midnight, and it will serve you well here. I simply told them what I liked and, one after the other, they whipped up three delicious whiskey concoctions. They were attentive and seemingly paid little attention to my rate of play. I love this place. Give it a try if you haven’t.

Friday morning my brother rolled into town. The three Vegas Fanboys went to Sambalatte for what I’d call the best coffee on the Vegas Strip or downtown. I’ve talked about it before and a detailed review is to come on the site. I actually think Sambalatte may be one of the reasons I like the south end of the Strip as much as I do. What’s nice is that the LV BLVD entrance to Monte Carlo sits back from the street. They’ve built a nice little courtyard-like area with a fountain. It’s a great spot for Vegas mornings.

We made our way to center Strip to hang out for the afternoon, the Linq more specifically. Marc, of Edge Vegas fame, was actually at the Linq at the time and met my brother and I for a few drinks and some VP at TAG bar. It was great to meet Marc, someone I’ve interacted with plenty of times. The service and selection at TAG was again top notch. The staff is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable- really fun to talk to. Our bartender was offering new rounds before we’d finished the previous. So, for now, Caesars is still treating the bartop VP players pretty well. I ran into, just for a brief second, listener Curt. I wish I had more time to stay and chat with Curt, but our schedules didn’t overlap like we were hoping. Either way, thanks for the drink tickets Curt. Hopefully we run into each other again!

We had lunch at Flour and Barley in the Linq Promenade. The pizzas were a resounding…ok. They run around $15 a piece and are about the size of a standard medium. They do have a really good beer selection. You can tell many of these places are making quite an effort in this area. So, not exactly spectacular, but for a relatively quick, quiet lunch, it was good.  


After lunch, we checked into the Excalibur. There was quite a line, as it was about normal check-in time during a busy weekend. The front desk agent was nice. I would have pressed them harder about my reservation, as I had upgraded to a contemporary room about two weeks before my arrival. I had planned this. I booked the basic room via a myVegas discount, knowing full well I’d get an inexpensive upgrade. Well, got up to the room and it was, in fact, not the upgraded room I was anticipating. It was the basic room. Now, the basic room, how put this mildly? Is actually somewhat offensive. I don’t personally think you should be able to label your property a “resort” and offer this as an accommodation. Normally, I’d go back down and figure out the snafu. But I simply didn’t have time to head to the line as I was on a tight schedule, trying to get to my nephew’s Christmas pageant. It was nothing like Absinthe as my sister promised.

Anyway, the room felt dirty. This is likely because they decorate in varying shades of brown. Also, because it was kind of dirty. The furniture had knicks. The little webelos decoration on one of the bed headboards was broken off. It was just a mess in there. Really not worth anything you would pay for it. I’m really not that hard to please, but this…just no. If you do really have to stay at Excal, spend a couple extra bucks and get in the contemporary rooms. They’re tolerable. Really, though, take your money to Tropicana. Room rates are close, Trop will be a little more, but you won’t be offended when you walk in the room.

Yeah. Brown.

The casino, as always, was really busy. It’s a fun place to play. Low limits and a good atmosphere. Sleep somewhere else.

After finishing up with the overwhelmingly non-Absinthe-like Christmas pageant, I, like my wife on her last trip, somehow ended up at the Stratosphere. Two things about the Strat. It’s a weird property. But can be pretty solid for us low-rollers. There is a handful of nickel VP banks and decent table limits. The bars also have some generous happy hour specials.

The reason I was there was to eat at the Top of the World. For full disclosure, I was eating on a comp. It was not my comp, clearly. I can’t even get comps at Denny’s. I had to pay actual money for that room at the Excalibur. The food is pricey at Top of the World because you’re paying for the view. And a view you will get. Really, really cool. The restaurant does a full rotation every 80 minutes, so you get multiple, great looks at both the Strip and downtown.

Stellar view on Top of the World.
Stellar view on Top of the World.

Two dishes really stood out. A starter, the seafood platter, was fantastic. At a steep $56 you’ll get prawns, yellowtail crudo, lobster cocktail, and a crab salad. The menu says it serves two people, but I’d say up to 4 can snack on it easily. For dinner, I opted for a self-made Sinatra special. I had the New York strip, also $56. The food here really does hold it’s own. Cooked a perfect medium rare. The steak comes with an au poivre sauce on top. It’s a cognac cream sauce. I actually think the steak was so good, it didn’t really need the sauce. Either way, good stuff. That was paired originally with a nice cabernet, but to make it a proper Sinatra meal, I was surprised with a two fingers of Johnnie Walker blue. Yeah, it was a great meal. A meal I don’t feel I necessarily deserved, but fantastic. We had dessert, but I was still in my own world after having that delicious whiskey, so I wasn’t really paying much attention. They seemed really good.

Say you don’t want to spend a ton of cash on dinner, but want to get the view, which I suggest everyone try at some point, getting access to Level 107 lounge is a great option. They have early and late happy hour specials featuring discounted appetizers and 2-for-1 drinks.

We, unsurprisingly, didn’t have much energy after such a big meal. My brother was operating on limited sleep and a travel day, so we called it an early night. I played some electronic craps at Excal for a bit, the real craps tables were full. Nothing crazy to note there.

The following morning, Saturday, we went to Sambalatte for some coffee. Have I mentioned how much I like that place yet? Afterwards, we took an Uber to the Plaza. I took Uber several times on this trip with no problems whatsoever. Some hotels make is easy to find the Uber pickup location. Luxor, as one of my Uber drivers noted, is one of the worst hotels as there is no signage and the dedicated Uber pickup is actually a side location, not the main, valet area. The Uber trips were inexpensive and easy. I love the “split fare” feature on the app. If you have another Uber user in the car with you, you can simply select their name from your list of contacts and request they split the fare with you. Uber takes care of it after the trip is completed. No exchanging money or saying “I got the next one”, knowing full well there likely won’t be a next one. So, Uber gets a double clap from me. Clap, clap.

If you listened to YCBT, you heard about my brother and I playing poker at the Plaza. I was actually concerned after I left the casino because I thought to myself, “Oh no, do I like the Plaza?” The limits were obviously low, they had some good blackjack rules, and nickel VP. And, and, it really didn’t smell that bad. What’s happening there?

After our time at the Plaza, we toured downtown with our dad, who never really spends time down there. We taught him Sigma Derby, took him to the empty Downtown Grand. There’s nothing quite like hanging out in a large, virtually abandoned building. It actually reminds me of Detroit. Maybe that’s why I like it so much- it feels like home. We played some VP there and trotted across the street to Pizza Rock. I’ve fully come around on Pizza Rock. I wasn’t really buying the hype after my first visit, but we ordered the meatballs and the New Yorker pizza and…yeah, just wow.

We did a little more exploring before heading back to our dreary castle to change and get ready for dinner. I had reservations at Luxor’s Tender Steakhouse. I made this reservation, then saw it was a nominee for worst steakhouse on Vegas Tripping’s 2016 Trippies list. I actually had the myVegas reward offering half off a bill of $150. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I liked it. Classic dark wood, low lighting. Kind of cool. The silhouetted tree prints are hit or miss. I didn’t mind them, my brother wasn’t a big fan. I’m not sure I can really weigh in on how good it is as a steakhouse, as neither my brother nor I ordered a steak. We were steak-ed out from the previous night. I ordered the game tasting trio which consisted of venison, elk, and a wild boar rack chop. It was interesting. Pretty good, really not bad. Again, I didn’t have the steak, but it would have to be really underwhelming to be labeled as one of the worst in Vegas, especially given that the service was outstanding. They were really attentive even though they were juggling us along with some pretty big groups. Thanks, cowboys. Two entrees, two sides, and two drinks will run you close to the $150 to qualify for the $75 food credit from myVegas. If you’re looking for a steakhouse experience, but don’t want to spend a ton, this is something to consider.

After dinner, we killed some time at the Cromwell before heading to see Absinthe. I’ve said this before, I’m doing a year in review piece soon, but the Cromwell was my favorite casino this year. Great service and decent gambling. My brother and I played some VP at the main casino bar. Not a great paytable but drink service was quick and attentive. And, as Taylor said, some full pay BP machines. Of which I played at and, Taylor, per your request from your PayPal donation, I hit quad Aces on my final hand getting that $100 payday. And here’s what happened after that. I took that $100, went to their great cocktail lounge, Bound, and spent some of it. This what casinos need to get. I specifically went to the Cromwell for the good odds. I was paid accordingly, and, because in such a good mood, I spent some of that money on that property and I’ll be back to do it again. If you reward us players with good gambling and exceptional value, we’ll reward you with our loyalty.


Feeling good, we went to see Absinthe as our final Vegas experience this trip. It’s a good show. Elevated ticket prices. It’s a small theater. You don’t have really any opportunities to order drinks during the show. Plus, the prime center Strip location is what likely accounts for this. That being said, there is no bad seat. The proximity to the stage is a real plus. It really has everything you’d want in a Vegas show. Comedy, crude to some, but comedy nonetheless. It’s a fairly sexual show. Again, crude at times, but more artistic in certain acts. And intense physical feats. Some that seem to defy physics. Some made me want to hit the gym a little bit harder. This show is not for people that get offended in really any situation. If you’re not a fan of jokes on religion, race, or sex, don’t go. Also, if you don’t want to be a subject of said jokes, don’t sit in the first two rows.

It was a really fun trip overall. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I know I have an incredibly busy 2016 ahead of me. Half a dozen weddings to go to, a busy Winter semester. I’m hoping to get back out sooner rather than later, but who knows? It the meantime, I’ll still be bringing Vegas content.


Host of the Vegas Fanboy podcast. A reluctant Millennial. An amateur human.