Las Vegas Trip Report

The period between returning from Quebec and hoofin’ it to The Happiest Place on Earth™ stretched three long weeks—and by long, I mean “lots to do.” Holy moly. You’d think that not having a corporate 9-to-5 day job would free up copious amounts of time, but I learned that (a) accumulated catch-up takes a long time to process when the list is as long as an elephant’s trunk, and (b) that I need to very carefully manage my schedule. Having just one or two out-of-the-house activities in a day is enough to derail the entire day’s productivity. Even something simple as meeting someone for a 90-minute lunch takes on a different meaning when it’s 90 minutes for eating, 30 minutes each way for transportation, 15 minutes each way for prep and another 30 minutes to shower and get dressed.
Because of Quebec and Las Vegas, I set a mental trigger of June 1 as the day that “the new normal” starts. So today I finish some clean-up, reset my task lists and prepare to dive into this brave new world of independent quality consulting.
But before we effect that pivot, let’s talk about Sin City.
In my trip report that follows, I mostly don’t name-drop friends who met up with us, because I don’t want to offend anyone I missed. I connected with so many friends—probably around 20 folks—that I’ve met before, plus a dozen or so new friends, whose in-person camaraderie I truly value. This trip had fun experiences, yet I found the people part to be the best value of all.

Las Vegas: Day One

My flight left Grand Rapids at 6:30a on Friday the 25th. Much to my astonishment, the TSA line at GRR was ridiculous. Probably at least 100 passengers ahead of me. To be fair, the line moved fast, but I’m accustomed to arriving at the TSA checkpoint at Gerald R. Ford International Airport and finding two people ahead of me. Not fifty times as many!
My flight connected in Detroit—where I met Tony and we sat for a spell in the Delta lounge, enjoying a mimosa and breakfast food. The flight to Las Vegas was extra fun. The same flight crew from Grand Rapids also serviced the Las Vegas flight, and two of the flight attendants recognized me. Add Tony offering a tip to keep the alcohol flowing (we were seated in Comfort+), the two of us chatted and had four separate cocktails and played Forbidden Island on the iPad. Those cocktails were fun: Tony prepped a TSA-compliant bag of mixers plus a few Shaker and Spoon recipe cards. So we had bitters and mixers and airline spirits. And the best part was that it was all legal: The mixers were sized to pass the screening and they contained no alcohol, so we didn’t run afoul of FAA regulations about self-service.
From McCarran International Airport we Lyft’d it to Excalibur. Yes, Excalibur, the Circus Circus of the South Strip. The room was quite serviceable and, to be fair, we didn’t really stay there much. But it’s a property to check off my list. From Excal we Lyft’d it again, this time to Harrah’s, where Tony had a second booked room. (Both Excal and Harrah’s were comped.) Then we inducted Chris and Julie and Alastair and Mitchel to the joy of Bally’s Keno. Tony, Mitchel and I had taco lunch at Tequila Taqueria, then we connected with a few others before meandering around Center Strip for a while, eventually connecting with a crowd at a craps table. From there, it was off to Treasure Island for some miscellaneous gambling until the beginning of ZorkFest.
ZorkFest, by the way, is a conference intersecting awards travel and casino loyalty programs. The event is hosted by with several supporting sponsors. ZorkFest was first held in Atlantic City last year; this year’s shindig landed in Las Vegas. The message of the conference is how to travel cheaper and smarter by maximizing the value of loyalty programs, points systems and airline miles. Apparently, only suckers pay full price for travel. I went to ZorkFest because it was adjacent to the 360Vegas Vacation VI festivities, but I walked away from the conference with substantial new insight into the value of these programs and on point maximization. Kudos to the entire TravelZork team, especially Michael Trager and Eric Rosenthal, for their hospitality and insight.
The Friday-evening ZF activities consisted of a cocktail reception (sponsored by Gogo) followed by a VIP dinner, both held in the conference facilities at Treasure Island. After dinner, we enjoyed a “celebrity craps tournament,” with proceeds from ticket sales supporting Pangea Educational Development, a charity long championed by everyone’s favorite Millennial, Adam the Vegas Travel Fanboy. URComped offered the first-prize gift of a cruise for two. A great time, supporting a great cause.

Las Vegas: Day Two … ZorkFest!

We dedicated Saturday to ZorkFest. The event opened with comments from the Cousin Vito. I attended sessions by Adam Bauer of Travel Fanboy, Gilbert Ott of God Save the Points, gaming expert Eric Rosenthal, Anthony Curtis of Las Vegas Advisor, Craig Shacklett of URComped, Jean Scott of Frugal Vegas fame and Heather Ferris of Vegas Aces. Throughout the day I enjoyed the chance to engage in some one-on-one chats with several of the faculty, including Ferris and Curtis. In particular, Anthony Curtis—a godfather of gambling and Vegas advice for many, many years—proved delightfully warm and eminently approachable, especially over cocktails at the bar.
After the sessions, Tony, Mitchel, Ryan and I went to the Mandarin Bar at Mandarin Oriental for cocktails followed by a quick dinner on the way back to TI, at the Gordon Ramsey Pub & Grill at Caesar’s Palace. We were joined intermittently by folks including Andrew, Phil and Bobbi. From there we returned to TI for Podcasters After Dark, a two-hour session sponsored by The Bettor Life and featuring an introduction by the Vegas Confessions Podcast then live shows from Scott Roeben of Vital Vegas, Adam the Millennial of Travel Fanboy and Mark DeVol and Dr. Mike of You Can Bet On That. After the show, we enjoyed cocktails and snacks until midnight, then post-cocktails cocktails in the suite of Michael Trager, the fearless leader of Travel Zork.
ZorkFest offered a ton of benefit and insight, as well as great new networking connections. Highly recommended.

Las Vegas: Day Three … 360Vegas Vacation VI, Part I, Subsection A

Events for 360Vegas Vacation commenced at 3p for a meet-and-greet at the Centra Bar at Luxor. Before that, however, the day was mostly spent gambling and enjoying fine adult beverages. We met Mark and Keren of the 360Vegas Podcast, as well as a large contingent of friends, at the Franklin Bar at Delano. That large group then engaged in casual gambling and drinking around the area, until we settled at a blackjack table at Luxor. Rob kindly shared a cigar with me, which was nice, and we chatted a bit about formal religion while sipping highly priced but well-made cocktails.
Then … JEN ARRIVED. So funny thing. Tony and I had planned this excursion as a two-person Michigan delegation because Tony’s divine better half, Jen, wasn’t able to come to Las Vegas that weekend. However, we had plans afoot for months for her to show up and surprise him, on his birthday. Which was that day. So as we sat at the blackjack table, she came up behind him and asked if she found a 360Vegas meetup. Tony was utterly flummoxed. Took him about a minute to recover. The fact that she and so many of us kept the secret perfectly for so long was a delight.
Anyway, after the Centra meet-and-greet, we took a party limo from Luxor to downtown Las Vegas. Kudos to Joey for sponsoring the beer and shots on the bus. After the limo arrived, I checked into my hotel room—a Vintage Room at El Cortez—only to find that (a) I needed an armband to access the guest rooms, and (b) that apparently one must pay extra for the non-bidet bathrooms:

The first time was shocking. After that, I figured I was “upgraded” to a room with a built-in shin cleanser.
The evening was spent gambling around town. Most of us stayed at a two-deck pitch blackjack table at Main Street Station for most of the evening.
I’m pretty sure I ate stuff that day, but I cannot remember what or where.

Las Vegas: Day Four … 360Vegas Vacation VI, Part II, et seq.

Monday was fun.
I got up early, dined at Siegel’s 1941 at El Cortez, then wandered to Main Street Station to play slots and video poker for a while. From there, I perambulated around most of the downtown casinos, dropping a $20 here and there and sometimes getting $120 back. That was nice.
Festivities restarted with a meet-and-greet at Banger Brewing at noon, at the Fremont Street Experience. Tasty beer. Then we returned downtown. I made it to Treasure Island for the 2:30p whiskey tasting in Michael’s TI suite. Something like 14 or 16 of us, coordinated early on by Mitchel, either brought a bottle or contributed to Eric, who procured several premium bottles. So we ended up with a lovely collection to sample:

I took responsibility for pouring, to ensure equitable distribution as well as to streamline the logistics of serving so many glasses of so many spirits in such a constrained time period. A few folks, including Tony, Mitchel and Bogan, helped with contextual information. (And Bogan and I traded cigars to try.) It was a good time. Lots of whiskey, but because we kept some order to it, the activity wasn’t the train wreck that the Windsor tasting had been a few months prior.
From there, we Lyft’d it to Luxor for dinner at Tender…

… followed by a meet-and-greet at Skyfall Lounge at Mandalay Bay:
We enjoyed group craps at Luxor after that, where Alastair won pretty much everyone back more than their initial investment on a 45-minute roll. Miscellaneous gambling ruled the rest of the night. Props to Luxor for taking great care of us and to Julie for her expert photography that evening.

Las Vegas: Day Five

My last full day in Sin City was a pleasant one. I woke up, tried breakfast at The Buffet at Excalibur, walked down to Mandalay Bay to acquire some Davidoff cigars, wandered around South Strip for a while on my own, then connected with about a dozen folks at New York New York for beer. We then toured the Park MGM property (formerly, the Monte Carlo). Interesting design choices. I’m sure Mark at 360Vegas Podcast will have more to say in the future about the “abortion” (his term) of the Monte Carlo.
After Park MGM, I went with Alastair to meet with Chris for an extended brunch at Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan. Delightful food but even better conversation. From there, Alastair and I took a nap (separately) until it was time to meet at Centrifuge at MGM Grand for a final round of cocktails with the group.
After Centrifuge, given my flight schedule, I retired for the evening. I moseyed back to Excal, grabbed a few slices of pizza then packed and went to bed.

The Voyage Home

My flight home left McCarran at 6a on Wednesday, May 30. Took a Lyft from Excal to the airport. Arrived at 3:45a—which was 15 minutes too early. Apparently, Delta doesn’t open for business until 4a, so everyone waited and waited and waited for the baggage people to show up. Line of roughly 150 people waiting to drop a bag. By 4:05a, the Skycap was open, but despite the Delta supervisor encouraging people to use it, almost no one did. Except moi, whose wait shrunk from 45 minutes to 4.5 minutes. And the TSA line was blissfully short: Only a half-dozen people ahead of me to get into Terminal 1.
Flights were utterly sedate. The leg back to Grand Rapids was half empty. Pretty nice. Home by 4p, after a Meijer run. The feline overlords were pleased to see me. All was well.
Now, it’s time to get to work.

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