Traveling Around - Mississippi - A Few Days At The Casinos in Northern Mississippi
Planning for this November trip from Michigan to the Tunica, MS, area began in way back in the mid summer. On really hot days, when I was on the tractor mowing our lawn, I'd daydream about a cold drink and a fun video poker machine. Then when the garden started maturing and I harvested squash and cucumbers, I'd daydream about a buffet dinner where I didn't have to cook. And when brussel sprouts and potatoes began to be harvested, I really started watching the mailbox. In mid September I began receiving advertising for The Fitz and decided planning should begin.
Since we have retired, we always drive rather than fly places. Really like the comfort and control that we get from doing our own planning and making last minute decisions about where to stop and what to see.
The trip to Tunica offered more opportunity for planning because we wanted to arrive rested and ready to have some fun. I found a Quality Inn in Marion, Illinois, that was about 4 hours north of Tunica making it about 9 hours south of home in Michigan. Got our reservations there as step 1 of the process, knowing that I could cancel or change as necessary.
I figured our first two nights would be spent as usual at The Fitz. Usually their advertisements come first in the mail and are followed a few weeks later by ads from Sam's Town. There was a minor problem making the reservations at The Fitz and I had to telephone because I wanted to use an advertising offer that expired in the middle of our visit. The computer wouldn't let me make the reservation but a nice reservation person straightened it out in a hurry and planning was proceeding.
From experience I knew that another batch of advertising would arrive in mid October and that offers from Sam's Town would be included. About the 19th of October those offers came in and I easily used the computer the add a three day stay to our trip.
After some discussion we decided to try to drive without an overnight on the way home. It would make a long tiring day but being rested when we got home wasn't a priority.
Our plans ended with a free night at the Quality Inn on the way down (free with points from Choice Rewards), 2 free nights at The Fitz (from advertising promotion) and 3 free nights at Sam's Town (from advertising promotion).
We were up and about and on the road by about 6:30 on Tuesday A.M. Traffic wasn't bad and we cruised through the Chicago area. Our Garmin didn't want to work because the battery had run down and since it wasn't helping, we took a wrong branch near Chicago. Wound up going some 20 miles out of the way but it wasn't a major snafu
I'd planned on gas at Kankakee because I'd investigated on line for cheap prices and Kankakee was at 2.06. As we pulled off the expressway, the station right there was raising the price to 2.26. In the distance I could see a Murphy's (Walmart) where it was still 2.06 and we bought the cheaper gas with a few minutes to spare.
We got to Marion by about 3:00 Illinois time and had to change our watches and car clock. Mississippi is on Central Daylight time also so we'd just leave them alone until we started back.
Our Quality Inn in Marion, IL, was in a conglomeration of confusing roads leading to hotels and restaurants, a small convenience store, and a laundromat. Finally figured out how to reach our place and arrived.
Check in was smooth. There was even a sign on the desk specifically welcoming me to the hotel. The desk clerk had a bag of goodies that included Famous Amos Cookies, pretzels, and some chocolate candies. They had a popcorn machine working away to one side (which my wife made sure got raided later).
The room was nice with refrigerator (in which I stored a bottle of bubbly) and microwave (which we didn't use at all). A Cracker Barrel restaurant was located within easy walking distance and we went there for a light evening meal of beans and cornbread. Good stuff. Came back and popped the bubbly and between it and the television, passed the evening until sleep overtook us.
Up an at 'em on Wednesday with the expectation of a reasonable free breakfast at the hotel. It was better than that and we enjoyed it. Got on the road by about 9 and got to Tunica and The Fitz by about 1 PM.
It has been our experience that the 4 PM check in at The Fitz is never on time and getting there at the early hour results in nothing but frustration. Normally there are crowds in the lobby waiting to get to the front desk and you can expect at least a half hour line to be told the room wasn't ready. Were told to check again at 5. Normally at 5, it wasn't ready yet and another hour spent waiting might produce a room. There is an article I published about the hotel/casino and a previous experience at earlier Hub Article about The Fitz.
So we were pleasantly surprised that the lobby was deserted. I don't mean only a few people there - it was out and out empty. Including the registration desk. Unsure what to do I wandered over to the registration desk and within a minute or some, a clerk appeared. They must have a camera aimed properly.
I was nice and acknowledged that I was early but he checked the reservation. I smiled pleasantly and asked if a complimentary upgrade was possible also commenting that as I was getting older, I'd appreciate being near the elevator. He did some magic with the computer and asked if we'd like a large flat screen tv or a mini suite. Knowing our habits, I opted for the tv and he blocked the room. We could pick up our keys at 4 PM. I was so startled at the efficient handling that although I tipped him, I'm not sure it was enough. He even tried to graciously decline the tip. What is this world coming to?
I'd planned on a couple extra hours at this point and Wednesday is senior day at The Fitz so we went in search of a couple quarter full pay video poker machines that I knew to be tucked away in a corner of the downstairs portion of the casino. On senior day, earning 10 points on a machine entitles one to a spin on the "Senior Wheel" which has a variety of prizes from free play to free buffet. We found the machines and they still hadn't been converted and were stilll coin droppers but they did have 9/6 JOB on them. I settled in front of one, put in my card and loaded a $5 bill having decided that I'd use fives as needed to prevent too large a coin droppage when I got my points. The wife settled at the other machine but couldn't even get it to take a bill to read. The little lights that are at the bill entry slot were not shining. After many tries, she gave up and we settled at my machine. Combined our resources and ran my card up to 10 points, pulled it and put in her card and in running her card up to 10 points hit 4 7's so that when we got to the required points, we wound up with a bucket of quarters to take to the cashier. A pleasant cocktail waitress brought us each a glass of wine to sip on and carry around.
Later we found that the machine she tried would only accept coins - that the bill reader had never been installed. We also discovered that the machine that would take bills would only accept bills printed before 1997 - now, what that was all about, I don't understand.
Went to the Player's Club and spun the wheel. As hoped for, we both got buffets and we bounced off to the restaurant for our free meals. It is never a really spectacular meal but lots of good food and soups and desserts and we had more than our fill. We waddled out of the buffet around 4 PM and headed back to the registration.
Still none of the expected lines at registration and we picked up our keys. Off to the car to get luggage and up the elevator. The gentleman at check in was good at the computer as we were just around the corner from the elevator and the room was spacious, clean, and had the advertised flat screen tv. Happily ensconced, I took a short nap.
My wife isn't a big casino person so she settled in with the flat screen tv and HGTV and I headed back to the battles. I circled the pit and even though I expected it to be a little slow, to some extent was surprised to see only 2 blackjack tables open. One was a shoe dealt $5 game that had some fancy side bet that was slowing the game down. The other was a double deck $10 game and as I was walking up, one player gave up and vacated his seat so I could sit down. Could there be a better sign?
Decided earlier that I was just going to drink, relax, and absorb whatever minor losses came my way. After drinking and relaxing for 3 hours, I decided to quit while I was $20 lighter than when I began.
Back to the room for an evening of tv and frivolity in the room.
Up early on Thursday. I always blame the time change but I think it is really the excitement of the casino. Used the coffee maker and had a cup while I read some in a book I'd brought. The Fitz doesn't have wifi in its rooms. It doesn't have it any public place in the hotel. So, we were isolated until 9 when gift shop opened and I could pick up a paper. I guess you could say I was forced to go downstairs and investigate the video poker situation.
Remodeling had been done on the video poker area on the second floor of the casino. The snack bar had expanded and the video poker section moved. It had also been reduced in size. There were now 8 straight video poker machines and 6 machines that had variations of standard video poker. Denominations varied. There was one 100 play machine that started at a penny. The standard machines started at a nickel. One triple play started at a quarter. Pay tables on all of them were pretty sucky.
Thursday at The Fitz is Ladies Day and if a lady gets 25 points on her card, she qualifies for some things including a slot tournament, a free gift and a buffet along with a couple drinks. A companion can come along for the buffet and drinks if he puts 25 points on his card. So, the goal before breakfast was to put 25 on my card and 25 on her card (which I'd pilfered from her purse while she slept). I played nickels for a while and then switched to the penny 100 play, playing 5 hands at 5 pennies each. I got hooked bad. I just loved that little machine. I played five hands at 1 cent, then 10 hands, then 20 hands. Backed up and switched to 2 cents and played 5 hands for a while, then went to 10 hands, and the 20. At the 2 cent 20 hand level, I got 25 points on her card and pulled it, putting mine back in. Shortly after that I was dealt 4 to a royal. I could just see me hitting 20 royals for $1600 but it wasn't to be. I hit one of them for $80 and was happy to get the ticket out.
Time to eat. Stopped by the blackjack pit and asked about a breakfast comp based on previous evening play. Happy to oblige. Retrieved the wife from the room and off to breakfast.
Registration for Ladies Day didn't occur until 4 PM so after breakfast we headed back to the room so we could read the paper and relax. No such animal. The gift shop had discontinued handling newspapers. I inquired but was told, newspapers were not available at The Fitz. It is remote enough that there isn't any convenience stores nearby so up we went to watch some HGTV.
After I saw all of it I could take, I was back at the cheap video poker and played there most of the day with a net win of $17.50. At 4 PM, the wife got registered for the tournament and we picked up our free buffet and drink coupons. Stopped and got a couple glasses of wine to drink with dinner but found out that carry in drinks were not allowed at the buffet. Smilingly frustrated, we lounged at a penny slot and drank our wine. Again, the buffet was not special but the food was good and the variety was ample.
The wife wanted to play a little video poker so I escorted her to the cheap video poker area and she settled in for a while. Her tournament play was scheduled for 7:20 so with a couple hours free, I headed back to the blackjack game. Again I'd decided to just relax and play the game and drink a drink or two. She came to get me at about 7:10 and after that couple hours, I was behind $15. We went over to the tournament area where she was assigned the coldest machine in the tournament and while she pounded on it, she couldn't build enough credits to place.
With the time difference, we'd already missed Bones but got back to the room in time for Blacklist and Elementary. Ready for sleep when they'd finished.
Friday was moving day. After an early wake up, I headed back to the penny machine and sat there till she came down for breakfast. I'd played for some 1 1/2 hours and lost $7.84 - I'm not sure how I did that. Checked with the blackjack pit and got another breakfast buffet comp. Had a good breakfast and ended our stay at The Fitz on a note where the 2 cent royal almost kept me even.
Usually a problem exists in Tunica when changing hotels. Check out is 11 AM and check in is normally 4 PM, giving us 5 idle hours. I could easily spend it at a blackjack table or video poker machine but the wife would be bored silly.
We decided on the Outlet Stores, then driving to Southhaven to search for gas, and then to a museum in Hernando. Off we went.
The Outlet Stores have become more and more vacant. The wife went into a shoe store and into GNC but didn't buy anything. We spent a while in the Kitchen Gadget Store that we both enjoy browsing. Again, however, no purchases. Saw that there is a big Tanger Outlets opening in Southhaven so wouldn't be surprised if it was the death knell for the Tunica Outlets.
Was able to search out some $1.89 gas and filled up. A week earlier it had been $1.72 but must have jumped up at the same time nationwide.
From Southhaven, we drove south to Hernando. The Desoto County Museum is a smaller building with a log cabin nearby. It attracted me because they advertised a Jerry Lee Lewis (a local legend the ad says) exhibit. We got there and there was a sign on the door - "Closed on Friday for a school program". What can you do. We headed back to Tunica.
Some time ago I had the opportunity to get a Restaurant.com certificate for $25 at the Horseshoe Buffet. We used it on Friday early evening to eat the seafood buffet. As usual, there was a spectacular array of dishes. Most popular were the crab legs but they don't appeal to either of us so we had things like baked scallops, stuff clams, won ton and other foods that we don't normally see in rural Michigan. Enjoyed it thoroughly especially since the $50 bill was paid for with $25 from Restaurant.com and $25 from Total Rewards points.
Did notice that on the way through the casino, it was a mob scene. There were probably 10 craps tables and there was very little player space left at any of them. Several carnival type games were active with $100 minimums. Space available at blackjack but didn't see any limits under $25. Stopped and watched a roulette table for a few minutes. It was a mess. There were two workers and some 6 or 7 exuberant players. A crush of chips to be sorted after every spin. They couldn't have been running more than 20 spins an hour. Fun to watch. We didn't even pause very long but went for the exit.
Headed for Sam's Town.
Sam's Town has recently been a joy to check into. I wrote an article about Sam's Town and it was published on Hub Pages. Lobby hasn't been overly crowded and the clerk seems to listen and accomodate. Asked for something near the elevators and she found us a room close by on the 9th floor. We got checked in and found the room to be spacious with a big comfortable bed and flat screen.
After stretching for a bit on the bed to recover from the driving, we went down to explore. The last time we were here they had moved the video poker from the second floor to the first and had tucked it away in a corner. So, we were surprised when we got off the elevator and took the steps down into the casino and right there was the video poker section.
We wandered around a bit and that was the only change inside the casino. They'd switched the video poker machines and the slot machines. In addition to the machines near the elevators, there was bar top video poker in the show lounge. The other change was outside the casino proper and on the second floor where they had added a craft beer / sports lounge they'd named "Flights". We peered inside and it looked a little small but was about 1/2 full any time we went by.
The pit games in the casino were still there but the minimums were usually someplace between The Fitz and The Horseshoe. To me, it appeared that video poker offered the best return and most of the 3 nights at Sam's Town was spent in that area.
The quarter machines all featured 9/6 JOB and I mostly contented myself with it. While looking around, I sat down at a quarter machine to use up my free play and almost immediately caught 4 of a kind so that visit was off to a good start. Over the 3 days I saw lots of 4 of a kinds and so wound up the video poker activity a little ahead over three nights. There was a bank of multi denomination machines where nickels could be played but none of them were straight video poker and ranged from triple play through spin poker and Ultimate X. I did dabble there a little but didn't do anything significant.
I'd decided that I'd play blackjack on Saturday evening for several hours as television on Saturday isn't much to watch. I'd also decided to try to casually use a modified speed count that probably would at least keep me even. Things started out great and I got about $100 ahead on a $5 table. After a couple hours, I recognized I was tiring and kept losing track of what was going on. When my winnings shrank to $50, I got up and wandered back to the video poker.
On Sunday, the casino ran a special where for 20 points you could gain an entry into a slot tourney that ran every time they had 12 players. You could do it four times so I did. Twice I wound up last in my group. Once I was 5th. And, once I was 3rd. The 3rd place finish got me $20 in free play which a turned in something slightly less than that on the video poker machines.
We always enjoy eating at Sam's Town. Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday consisted of a jumbo muffin from the snack bar. Took them to the room and had coffee with them. When they say "jumbo", they mean "jumbo". Saturday afternoon, we had chicken tenders in the snack bar along with waffle fries. The muffins were paid for with slot points and the chicken tenders were paid for with table game points. On Sunday, we used the mailer promotion for a free buffet. The buffet at Sam's Town includes wine or beer. Earlier - unlike at The Fitz - we had carried a glass of wine into the snack bar when we had our chicken tenders on Saturday.
We wound up in the black at Sam's Town and were happy with our stay. In addition to the table play on Saturday, we probably put $4,000 or $5,000 a day through the video poker so we'll probably remain in good standing with the mailing promos.
As we'd planned, we were up early on Tuesday. Even though we were on Central Daylight Time and it was an hour earlier than in Michigan, 4:00 AM seemed an early hour. We got ourselves showered and packed and were on the road by 5:30.
We'd decided to take a different route home so that we wouldn't have to deal with Chicago area traffic and cut across Illinois into Indiana on I-70. Went around Indianapolis and up I-69 to Lansing and then north to home. We drove straight through as planned and made the slightly over 800 miles in 13 1/2 hours, getting home at 8 PM Eastern Daylight Time.
We counted our money when we got home. Together we were about $100 ahead and about half of it was attributable to each of us. So, neither of us has bragging right about this trip. Had a lot of fun and ate too much as the scales proved to us when we weighed ourselves on Wednesday morning.