Cruising sunset

Throwdown Thursday: Trivial Thoughts on Cruising

Heather’s mother recently treated us, along with Heather’s kids and brother, to a mid-summer cruising vacation. Originally, the main event was to be a two day stay in Havana, but a Presidential edict quashed that plan. Thus, our family Cuba excursion morphed into a day in Key West, a day at sea, and a day in Nassau, Bahamas.  This was Paul’s second cruising vacation, while Heather is a relative long-term cruise veteran with a whopping four cruises under her life jacket.

We are now back from our cruise and have some thoughts:

Heather:  Oh, thankfully that is over. I’m ready for a full human being detox. Jeezus, but those cruise lines can pack them in.

Paul:  Eh, we were waited on hand-and-foot and never had to wash a dish for 5 days. I’ll take a few crowded elevators and faux Las Vegas shows in order not to touch a sponge for a week.

Heather:  I think I’d rather wash dishes. But then, you tolerate people better than I do.

I also walked off that ship feeling like a goose that had been prepared for the slaughter. I think I gained five pounds in five days.

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Rio Poker Room Review

This summer, when playing in a World Series of Poker Daily Deepstack event, we got a chance to experience the Rio poker room. While the WSOP is certainly not the time to get a perfect read on the day-to-day operations of the Rio poker room, it did give us some sense of the atmosphere. To round out our review, we did a bit of research to determine the flow of cash and tournament action.

Casino Setting 

The Rio is about a mile west of the Strip on Flamingo Road.  It is part of a small constellation of casinos in the immediate area. The Flamingo is slightly west of the Rio, as is the Palms. The Gold Coast lies right across South Valley View Boulevard. So there are a couple of options within easy walking distance if you want to check out other casinos. The Strip is also theoretically walkable in 20-25 minutes, but beware, it’s a lot longer than it looks.

Parking is free at the Rio. A garage and multiple outdoor lots lie around back near the Conference Center (where most of the WSOP events are held).

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Planet Hollywood Las Vegas

Planet Hollywood Poker Room Review

Planet Hollywood sits on the Las Vegas Strip surrounded by a variety of notable poker venues. To the north on the East side lies the Venetian, while to the north on the West side is Caesars Palace. Across the street are the Bellagio and Aria. Planet Hollywood is right in the midst of the Strip action. In June we got a chance to drop in for the Goliath poker series Tag Team Switch tournament. While we did not have the full Planet Hollywood poker room experience, we were able to assess the casino overall.

Casino Setting 

Planet Hollywood sits on the strip right next to Paris and across from the Aria. It is  relatively close to McCarran airport as well. Planet Hollywood initially opened as the Aladdin, and fully renovated in 2000. But when the Aladdin fell on hard times in 2007, it was purchased by the Planet Hollywood Corporation (in conjunction with Starwood Hotels & Resorts) and renamed Planet Hollywood. Today the Planet Hollywood casino is one of the many Las Vegas properties (including the Rio, the Linq, The Flamingo, and Paris) owned by Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation.

Planet Hollywood’s central location is ideal as a base to walk to most of the other Strip casinos. Walk north and in about 20-30 minutes you can reach the top of the Strip (Wynn, Palazzo, and Venetian). Go south and you can reach the Luxor and Mandalay Bay.  Also, as of this writing, Planet Hollywood’s self-parking remains blessedly free. Free parking is a dying breed on the Strip.

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Golden Nugget Poker Room

Golden Nugget Poker Room Review

While the Strip draws the vast majority of poker players in Las Vegas, there are several poker rooms off the Strip. One of our favorites is the Orleans, which we have visited multiple times. The Golden Nugget poker room provides another option right in the center of Downtown Vegas. Offering smaller, more intimate atmosphere than many poker rooms on the Strip, the Golden Nugget presents a nice respite from the wild action along Fremont Street.

Casino Setting 

The Golden Nugget resides in Old Vegas, sited downtown between the famed Fremont Street and East Carson Avenue. It’s right across from Binion’s, the original home of the World Series of Poker. For those who have not been, Fremont Street is a scene. The locale features street performers, a zip line, vendors selling all manner of wares, and people in all sorts of costumes (some minimal). Perhaps not necessarily where you would take your 8-year-old, but a fascinating melting pot of Vegas decadence that is worth at least one visit.

The Golden Nugget’s parking is not free for the public, but if you play in the casino they will validate your ticket. We got our ticket validated at the tournament registration desk and our parking was indeed free.

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Vacation Budget Souvenirs

Top 6 Vacation Budget Breakers

We love to travel, but we hate to spend unnecessary money. So we are always looking for the best deals on hotels, rental cars, and dining. We like to travel well, but we also recognize the reality that our vacation budget is limited. Nothing is more budget shattering than encountering unplanned vacation costs after the trip has begun. So as you sketch out your vacation budget, keep the following budget busters in mind.

Vacation Budget Breakers

Resort Fees

The primary bane of our vacation budgeting has been the increasingly ubiquitous “resort fees”.  Often resort fees go unlisted in the initial pricing of a room. Sometimes they don’t even show up clearly in the online payment, only footnoted or found in the fine print. We’ve had some unwelcome surprises in the past when we arrived at our hotel to discover $30 to $50 a night slapped on top of our “pre-paid” reservation.

Solution: First, make sure you read the fine print before you book. Know if a hotel charges resort fees, and whether they’ve been included, or will be charged once you arrive. Second, examine your other options. In June, we opted for an Airbnb for our annual trip to Las Vegas instead of a Strip hotel. We ended up paying about 40% of what we have paid on our previous “great deals” for Strip hotels. While we missed some aspects of our hotel experience, these were offset by enjoying a whole apartment to ourselves with a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and washer/dryer.

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