Traveling Around: A Fragmented Week in the Casinos of Tunica, MS
Why Was Our Trip Fragmented?
We had originally meant to stop in Tunica for two days on our way west from Florida and then two more days on our way east when headed for home. We were not satisfied with one of the earlier Mississippi stops, so we rearranged our schedule to spend an initial five days in Tunica going west and later two days going east. However, there was a need to change hotels in the middle of the five-day stay. This made our trip a fragmented one, but it was fun all the same.
Sam's Town, MS
I called Sam's Town on Sunday morning, asking if they had rooms available beginning Sunday night. If the season had been different and rooms had been in demand, I'd have been out of luck. My luck was good, however, and I was able to book three nights at Sam's Town beginning later that day. I had visions of my luck remaining good when we got to the casino and started gambling.
We had found during previous stays at Sam's Town that certain of the hotel rooms opened directly into the casino area where the action was located and these rooms had more recently been updated and renovated. Usually, they were available if requested and our luck remained good as we readily were assigned rooms that met our needs.
The room was really nice and had a king size bed with two padded chairs at a table near the window looking out at the Mississippi River. Our floor was on a high enough floor that we did get a nice view. There was also a flat screen television and we had a wifi connection that was fast enough to fit out needs.
The Casino Had Changed
I suppose that at some casinos, a customer should expect change every time they visit. Sam's Town usually succeeds in accomplishing that and they did so this time.
At the casino floor of the elevators it is only a short walk to the short flight of stairs leading to the casino. For several years our favorite location in the casino was just at the bottom of the stairs where some 50 video poker games were located. There were good paying quarter games (9/6 jacks or better) and some not so good paying nickel games (multi-handed games and special games like Ultimate X). This trip there was only a paltry 8 video poker games hidden against the wall.
Irritated that they'd deprive us of our fun, we wandered off to see what else was going on. Although the table games were in the same areas this trip, they had been rearranged a couple times over the past few years. Many new slot machines were there and as we looked around, it became obvious that slot players were in abundance while other gaming was on the wane.
However, in the far corner of the casino (actually where they used to be), we found some 40 or 50 video poker machines. All of them looked new. There were plenty of quarter 9/6 jacks or better and lots of specialty games that would take pennies as well as nickels and dimes.
Happy as pigs in—well, whatever—we settled in and played for a couple hours. When we finished, Sam's Town was glad we'd come to see them but we weren't terribly unhappy and Sam's Town was not overjoyed.
Most evenings during the winter season have television series that we keep up with and Sunday was not an exception so we went to the room and settled in.
Meals at Sam's Town
I don't know whether we tend to be a lot different than most folks but we usually have breakfast by about 9 AM or so and then our second meal of the day around 2 PM. We don't have any other meals but we may have a cookie or crackers and some fruit while watching television in the evening.
Sam's Town is perhaps our favorite in Tunica. Particularly with the schedule we keep.
In the morning I normally go down to Smokey Joe's and get us each a large muffin. They normally have nutty ones that are the best around. Back up to the room and have them with coffee.
In the afternoon at Sam's Town, there is no question. It is the buffet for us. We thoroughly enjoy the choices and if something looks like it may have been sitting too long, we just skip it which we can do because so many things are offered. Usually, it is offered for $9.99 and includes wine with the meal. Our understanding is that they'll provide 3 glasses per person. Seldom do we feel like we should have more than two.
These two meals each day really satisfy us and the afternoon one usually makes us ready for a nap.
Back in the Casino
Sharon doesn't much care for table games, but I thoroughly enjoy playing blackjack. Particularly when I can find a $5 game that pays 3/2 when you get a blackjack. Many of the casinos have switched at least part of their tables to a 6/5 payoff which obviously takes away a few dollars from the player and makes the game less fun. Sam's Town hasn't done that and it's pretty easy to find what I think to be a playable game.
I'm a pretty conservative player and I stick pretty close to the table minimum—a $5 bet. Occasionally if I'm feeling really lucky and alert, I'll increase my bet to $10 but it is getting rarer and rarer that I do that. I've learned that even though the casino has almost unlimited funds to pay me if I win, there's no way I'm going to win enough to make a difference in my lifestyle. I just have to be careful not to lose an amount that will lower my standard of living.
I have a personal method of making sure that when I stop playing, I still feel good about the session. Every time the dealer shuffles the cards, I rat hole a chip in my pocket. With a six-deck shoe, a dealer probably shuffles three times an hour, and at the end of a two-hour session, I'll normally have six chips in my pocket. If the chip area in front of me goes empty after an hour of play, I can usually walk away with $15 in chips jingling like change in my pocket and at least a partial smile on my face.
Over the two afternoons and three evenings we were there, I probably played blackjack for about 10 hours. In the past, I've found that I typically hover around a $5 win or a $5 loss for each hour I play and this trip was no exception. In the 10 hours, I won $37.50.
Leaving Sam's Town
I'm never really sure how Sharon has done on the video poker machines she's played but the games offered at Sam's Town were of a denomination and type that she enjoyed playing them. So, she spent quite a bit of time in the casino. I know that she is very careful to keep her "gambling money" from a couple other stashes in her purse and I think that bankroll got bigger this time.
As I said, I won a few dollars at blackjack. It happened that I also won a few at video poker even though I didn't play the best percentage games they had. My total winnings at Sam's Town was around $50. Enough money to get me started at the next casino.
Down the Road a Little Piece
Before leaving on this extended trip, I had called our next stop—Fitzgerald's—to let them know we wanted to stop there for a couple nights. They were glad to give us a complimentary room while we were there.
In surfing the internet, I saw a lot of publicity about the "club rooms." These were remodeled rooms in a cluster on their own floor. The pictures I saw made them look much better than the standard rooms so I called them back and inquired about upgrading to the nicer accommodation. When informed that there would be an upgrade charge that didn't sound outrageous to me, I agreed and they changed our reservation.
We got to Fitzgerald's and had no problem checking in even though we were early. However, when we toted our stuff up to the room, I found that the room while a very nice room did not have the amenities that were portrayed in the pictures online.
I fumed and sputtered a little bit. Sharon took action and went back down to the check-in area. She explained that we'd agreed to an upgrade fee to move into the type of accommodation that was pictured on the internet. The clerks were very nice about it and explained that the internet pictures were of a Pullman Suite in the Club Room Area and that our upgrade was for a simple club room.
She complained enough that a very nice supervisor solved the problem by moving us to a Club Pullman Suite. Sharon came back upstairs and we gathered up our belongings and moved to the nicer accommodation. And it was nicer. Much like what the pictures had shown. There was a bedroom and a parlor. Television in both rooms. Coffee maker and refrigerator were there waiting for us. Sharon was (and is) my hero.
Meals at Fitzgerald's
We had eaten the buffet lunch at Sam's Town and were not interested in more food on the arrival date. We knew from previous visits that the best bet for breakfast was the buffet where we could get made to order omelets and I could get sticky buns with lots and lots of sticky stuff and plenty of butter to make them even worse for me.
The two mornings we were there we ate at the buffet. I'd played enough blackjack at The Fitz that I knew that simply by asking, the blackjack pit had given me complimentary food in the past. This trip was not an exception either from my sitting at the blackjack tables or the pit personnel being happy to get us fed.
One of the two days we were there we needed to come up with an afternoon meal. One of our days was "senior day" and if you played enough video poker or slot machines to put 15 points on your card, you could spin the wheel. Usually, regardless of what came up, you could trade it for a free buffet, but our luck held and each of us spun and won a free buffet. We ate our afternoon meal a little late because the buffet is closed from 3 to 4 and we didn't want to have to rush ourselves with a 3 o'clock arrival.
We have never enjoyed the evening buffet quite as much as breakfast. I usually wind up having soup, making myself a salad, and find several different kinds of vegetables on the hotlines. Dessert is almost always a pleasure but I'm usually pretty full of other stuff by the time I get to it.
The Casino at the Fitz
While at The Fitz I play blackjack almost exclusively. The video poker pickings are pretty slim and the pay tables on those that are there aren't very good. At one time they'd had two-quarter machines that had a 9/6 pay table. They were the old-fashioned coin droppers that took bills to get you started but dispensed coins when you won. Fun to play but a hassle to cash out 300 quarters instead of a ticket from the machine that said $75.
The Fitz casino is basically on two floors. The upper floor is from the hotel to the buffet and steakhouse. There are many slot machines and maybe 10 or 12 video poker machines. There is also a bar and snack restaurant near the hotel on this level.
In the middle of all of this, there is a large hole in the floor with a railing that allows you to look down at the first level where there are more slot machines and table games. Sandwiched in a corner near the cashier are 8 or 10 more video poker games. The table games are located in the center of the first-floor area.
During normal afternoon activity, I can usually find two blackjack tables with a $5 minimum bet. Never one to worry about where I am sitting in relation to the dealer I look to see who is playing at the tables and if I know one or the other to be a congenial group, that's where I play. If I don't, I just take my chances and join in.
Over two afternoons and two evenings at The Fitz, I played about 12 or 13 hours. Logic told me that in that length of time I should lose about $10. But, by the end of our stay on the evening of the second day, I counted what was in my rat hole and calculated my winnings and I was $160 to the good.
On Our Way Again
We got up on our last morning - a Friday - and got most of our stuff packed up, went down and had an excellent breakfast courtesy of the blackjack pit.
Back upstairs and completed our morning ablutions and on the road by about 10 AM.
We headed west from Tunica. I had planned several stops to the west before returning for a few nights at The Gold Strike where we hadn't stayed before.
The Gold Strike Hotel
We traveled west and then back east for four days and again reentered Tunica from the south. Not being confident about restaurants and eating at Gold Strike, we made a stop in Tunica at the Blue & White Cafe. We'd heard lots about it but had only tried it one time for breakfast. This time we were later so we had a big bowl of cream of potato soup. It was scrumptious and filled us completely.
We got into the Gold Strike and settled ourselves into the room. The room was pleasant but didn't seem right to us. Not as exceptional as I'd halfway expected but pleasant. The bed was comfortable and the flat screen television was big enough - probably a 32 inch. The bathroom was clean and bright but pretty small. The counter wasn't big enough for me to put my shaving gear, let along what Sharon might want there. The room did not have a closet but instead had an armoire the was sort of jutting out into the room on a side wall. We'd find out overnight that being next to the elevator at the Gold Strike was tantamount to being standing in the elevator alcove listening to the conversations that took place as people returned to their rooms.
After unpacking the necessities, we figured it was time to check out the casino.
On Thursday morning, however, Sharon again became the conductor of the orchestra and called the front desk, complaining mainly about the elevator noise. The courteous desk clerk readily provided a room further from the elevator making us wonder if they start everyone out close to the elevator and happily move them if a complaint occurs.
The new room was different. It was larger. The bathroom was larger. It had a long counter with lots of room. There was a closet. The television was larger - probably a 42 inch. It was the kind of room that I had expected to see at the Gold Strike.
The Casino at Gold Strike
The casino is easily accessible from the room elevators and we wandered around looking at the slot machine and table games. We wondered where the video poker was and never did locate any on that first level.
However, there was an escalator in the back part of the casino that led to a balcony area that ringed a viewing platform so that the folks on the upper level could see down into the slot machine/table game area. The upper area is a non-smoking area which particularly pleased Sharon. I am an ex-smoker, having quit some 35 years ago but the presence of smoke and smokers doesn't both me.
There is video poker available at the quarter level and I finally settled at a bonus poker machine that wasn't a particularly good pay table. I wanted to put some cash through the machine during our stay to see if it would generate any mail offers so settled in for a bit to accomplish that.
I started out with a hundred dollar bill and played on that hundred for several hours. When I finally gave up my quest for a royal, I was down at Gold Strike but still ahead at Tunica.
Since it was Sunday evening there were television programs that we enjoy. Sharon gave up long before I did and I finally went upstairs and spent the evening watching some favorite shows.
I did not play any table games while at Gold Strike and on Monday pounded away for several more hours on the bonus poker. I saw many four-of-a-kinds. A lot of them were bonus 4OK and so, even though I played for quite a few hours and logically should have lost heavily, I was able to finish up the day still ahead of the game in Tunica.
Meals While at Gold Strike
Knowing in advance that we didn't have any knowledge of restaurants at the hotel, we stopped over in Louisiana and bought some powdered sugar donut holes for Monday morning and for snacking on the highway.
Wednesday afternoon after arriving, we searched for restaurants there at Gold Strike. It appeared to us that The Atrium was closed for a private party. We didn't feel like we wanted to eat at the buffet at The Gold Strike probably because I had plenty of Total Rewards Points and we could eat without a cash outlay at The Horseshoe right next door. So, that's what we did on Wednesday late in the day. We again discovered that for variety of dishes and quality of preparation, The Horseshoe Village is probably the best in Tunica.
On Thursday, we felt like we couldn't resist another trip to Sam's Town since we wanted to relax and drink and eat. I hadn't put quite enough points on my card to eat the buffet so we settled in for a bit at one of the quarter 9/6 job machines and garnered the points necessary to get us the buffet again at no cash outlay.
As usual, the meal was satisfactory and the wine was plentiful and soothing.
Friday was an on-the-road day as we headed for Michigan so we stopped at a fast food after we cleared the Memphis area.
Summary of Our Seven Nights in Tunica
I think that we enjoyed Sam's Town more than the other two hotel/casinos. It had been a while since we'd stayed there as for some reason I had dropped off their mail offer list. Fond memories of the buffet are what caused me to think of them when I needed a place at short notice.
The Fitz was fine once Sharon talked them into upgrading our upgrade. Still don't quite understand what caused the problem but it is still the place to stay when we are being cost conscious as the rooms even when not comped are reasonable and the buffet comps are easy to come by.
The Gold Strike just didn't live up to my expectations. Don't know exactly what it was that was wrong. The room was nice. The casino was bright. The games were reasonable. Maybe it was just that it was a "new" place to us and we'd need a visit or two before we felt more at home.
Since we've been home I've found myself back on Sam's Town mail offer list and a new experience has been the offer of a three-night room good seven days a week. The Gold Strike is also trying to lure us back but I don't think I'll take advantage of their offers. The Fitz has always been welcoming and has had complementary rooms available most any time we wanted them.
Summertime is not a time when we travel any distance, so it will probably be autumn before we return to Tunica.