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GlobeTripping : Casinos Everywhere
Growing like kudzoo or the most awesomest infection you've ever had - casinos are everywhere. This is their story.
Learning new things and experiencing new experiences can be enjoyable, but *teaching* them is a whole 'nother level of fun.
The new-hires and summer temps at the office are 18-year-olds fresh out of high school. They're young and yet-to-be jaded by the nine-to-five of everyday life. Their youth has inspired us relatively old farts at the office to join them at the crack of dawn for pre-work surf sessions, showing remarkable patience as our once-six-packs-at-their-age beer bellies attempt to balance on beginner boards. Needless to say, it's not often that you get schooled by someone a full decade your younger, but I couldn't be more grateful as hitting the waves before work has become a new hobby I never thought I'd pick up.
I felt the need to return the favor in the form of my favorite pastime, but applying a curriculum that takes full advantage of my PhD in Vegas debauchery to anyone under the age of 21 was out of the question.
Enter a free room offer from Morongo Casino Resort.
Located in Cabazon, California about 10 minutes west of Palm Springs, Morongo offers gaming for patrons 18-years-of-age and up. As the first stop for the vast majority of southern Californians on the I-10 corridor of casinos, it often gets a... how should I say nicely... not-Bellagio type of crowd. Not even Luxor. Maybe Main Street Station... with a splash of meth heads, a large fistful of people that really shouldn't be gambling, and those who share the same occupation as Walter White laundering money in high limit. But whatever. A free room is a free room and as long as *I* got drunk, I can pretend it's Vegas enough.
I half-jokingly offered a 24-hour blitz to the office: "You guys taught me how to surf. Now let me show you my world." Before I knew it, the boss, the colleagues, and the "kids" were all gun-ho for Morongo with several rooms booked.
I had booked the free room for myself. Coworkers paid $139 plus tax and a $16 resort fee which included all the expected amenities as well as facility use of their supposedly world class spa (which we didn't get to sample). The value in the resort fee alone is there, especially since it includes spa facility use, but being only a 300-something room hotel, the demand is high enough for them to charge very inflated prices on ho-hum accommodations. Weekday Vegas value this isn't. At least comped rooms don't pay the resort fee.
Having a room to myself, I thought it'd be nice to a have a central spot for those of us of age to share a proper drink, hang, relax, and shoot the shit. Hence, I paid another $300 to upgrade to their top accommodation. Normally $600 per night and generally held for casino patrons, the Casitas at Morongo are tiny villas on the second floor of the resort measuring about 900 square feet.
Upon exiting the elevators on the second floor, follow the signs passed the double door. The entrance to these rooms is outside.
Apologies in advance for the state of the room. We got the party started as quickly as we could which meant the room was in a perpetual state of mess and doing a review in such a brief span of a trip meant no time to tidy up.
Colors are neutral and warm. Nothing too spectacular and very much in line with any mid-to-upper-level offerings in the Palm Springs area. The counter in the center of the room divides dining from living spaces. Within that counter, you'll find a minibar while the other side provides a small refrigerator stocked with water. Snacks on weighted sensors include the usual mix of Pringles, pretzels, M&Ms, and nuts. Don't expect condoms, lubes, CDs of shitty music, and other novelties prevalent in many Vegas minibars. The living area includes a tiny two-seater sofa plus chair surrounding a fireplace that turns on at the flip of a switch. A 42-inch LCD television stands above it.
From the other end looking out towards the entry. On the left is a cabinet with coffee maker on top. Inside, you'll find a handy ice maker and large safe. A pair of umbrellas stand between the cabinet and plant in case the weather gets nasty.
Directly to the right is the bedroom complete with king sized bed. The tray atop the bed features niceties like a Palms Springs city guide, shoehorn, and lint remover. Not pictures is an overhead ceiling fan.
Looking towards the bathroom, the bedroom features an adequate amount of closet space. The left closet has the expected robes and slippers while the right, a number of beach towels.
Another view looking out towards the patio. The LCD television is the same as the one in the living room. Textured concrete floors are a cool detail.
Looking towards the living room. With the nearly 100 degree temperatures, we turned the air conditioning way down and the fireplace on just because we could.
The bathroom is the same size as the bedroom. Dual sinks provide plenty of space. I hardly ever stock up on hotel bath products, but the line of Gilchrist and Soames they use in these rooms is worth packing in the luggage and calling down for more.
The water closet doors are almost transparent so sharing this room with anyone you wouldn't otherwise flash your penis to is a big no no. Yes, it's the only toilet in the room.
Next to it is a gigantic shower with two shower heads.
A large jetted tub includes two rubber duckies and bath salts not intended for human consumption.
That's not just a towel rack, but a towel warmer that inevitably becomes the swimsuit dryer by the end of the day.
The door in the above picture leads outside to an outdoor shower and small seating area. Again, that glass on one wall of the shower is transparent and can be seen from the bathroom directly on the other side. Make sure you're comfortable with your roommates. The purple wall is just plain hideous.
Here's where you lounge to watch your partner shower. This general area has a lot of potential, but comes off as a total afterthought.
But it's not the only outdoor area and the patio more than makes up for it. Concrete floors? Towel warmers? Outdoor showers? Beach towels in the closet? Here's where the $300 per night upgrade cost is justified.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Casitas have their own private dipping pools.
Looking out towards the bedroom. Now you know why the room quickly became a mess of towels and robes thrown carelessly anywhere and everywhere.
If you're looking for something larger, the gate pictured below leads directly to the public pools of the resort. Very convenient.
Would I pay $600 per night for it? Nah. Would I always upgrade for $300? Probably not. But if I had friends to host like I did this trip, then it's an easy decision.
Morongo is far and wide the best pool complex of any southern California casino. The large main pool has several shallow areas with chairs inside the water to lounge in. There's also a wading pool that gets confused for the kiddy pool and I'm pretty sure it's filled with urine. The highlight of the space is a short lazy river complete with water slide that feeds directly into it. Being used to Vegas, I was expecting a kiosk that rented inflatable tubes for the day, but I quickly found out that you simply had to claim one as they became available - refreshing not to get nickel and dimed. By the way, for a real good time, get plastered and claim one fewer tube than the number in your party, then let the odd man out fight his way onto one. It's real fun until the lifeguard blows the whistle.
Speaking of buzzing and buzzkills, there's a large bar with a nearby stage for live music at the center of it all. Unfortunately, drinks aren't allowed in the lazy river. WTF?! Here's a tip: don't order a pina colada or any other fruity drink that's served in a large, novelty plastic cup. Instead, stick to beer where you can hide it between your legs as you pass the two lifeguard stations on the lazy river.
Each person using the pool must have a wristband and they start at $22 or you can receive up to four with each room reservation. Cabana rentals also come with a few wristbands should a non-hotel guest decide to pursue that route. While it sounds overpriced, the local community loves it... perhaps a bit too much. Expect an uncomfortably large amount of people by the afternoon and early evening hours of the summer months. Thank goodness for my own pool at the Casita.
Morongo's got a decent selection of games for a tribal gaming joint. That means you'll be mazing through a sea of slots whilst asking, "Where's the motherfuggin' blackjack?!" When you do find it, don't expect reasonable minimums. Everything was $15 on a Sunday night for 6-deck shoes, some hand-cut, others continuous shuffle, and they all hit on soft 17. High limit ($50 minimums) appeared to have a 6-deck game with signs all over that said "no mid-shoe entry." Really?! Do people even bother "Wong'ing in" on anything more than two decks to justify that rule?
Other games include "California craps" using cards instead of dice. Uberlame. The Asian games area near the center of the casino offers pai gow poker that I never saw below $25 and several EZ baccarat tables ranging from $15-$25. "EZ" means no commission and a "Dragon" sucker bet that pays 40:1 if the banker wins with a 3-card total of seven. If, however, you were betting banker and this occurs, your bet only counts as a push and hence a slightly higher house advantage than the regular game. This, to me at least, is the equivalent of 6:5 blackjack in the baccarat world. The purists found in Wynn's high limit room wouldn't touch this game.
Despite wacky rules and ridiculous minimums, exposing gambling virgins to the thrill of their first double down meant a good time regardless. Three years from turning 21 and the surfers already have the gambling bug. I'm a great influence.
Food and Drink
Like most California gaming joints, food options feel limited at Morongo. There's a food court with Panda Express, Fatburger, LA Italian Kitchen, and a Haagen-Dazs. There's also the ubiquitous buffet, the Sunset Bar and Grill out by the pool, a 24-hour spot called Serrano, and high-end Cielo up on the top floor of the tower. We dined at the latter two.
Serrano is pretty much your run-of-the-mill, Vegas-style coffee shop. Expect a little bit of everything on the menu available all times of the day. Prices are very reasonable with most entrees in the $10 range. You won't be disappointed, but you won't be blown away either. And despite it being open 24-hours, you won't find a soul in there after 11pm, which for whatever reason, lowers its appeal infinitely.
One of the major highlights of the trip was Cielo. We went during happy hour at the bar where martinis are $6 and beers are $4. Food isn't marked down, but tapas-style appetizers are reasonably priced and delicious. Be sure to order the chorizo - OMG! Happy hour runs daily from 4-6pm which, while at an odd time, also affords the opportunity to take in the GORGEOUS restaurant and its top-floor views. The two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows reflect the orange hue of the desert sunset onto the beiges, golds, and purples of the space. Acres of wind farms in the distance complete the surreal setting. Cielo is a true gem.
The service is good in general. Don't expect the pampering of Wynncore - ask for directions and you'll be given them, but you won't be walked to your desired destination. Think any mid-level Vegas property. Casino crew, however, could definitely take a lesson in customer service. While day-shifters all seemed pleasant and cordial, the evening employees made it clear that they took pleasure in wiping us out. I *would* sympathize with them considering that the 18+ age restriction means a lot of stupidity and security issues on part of the patrons, but even a table full of us older dudes from the office received the same surly service.
Despite issues here and there, Morongo went far beyond my expectations. In the past, I've been no stranger to bashing it for being the "sketchiest" of tribal gaming joints, but as a hotel guest, it's a much more positive experience. Its setting, pool, Cielo, and other diversions like bowling and nearby outlet shopping make it the first California casino where... *gasp*... I could actually spend not one, but TWO nights in. It's not Vegas, but it's by far the closest thing California's got to the city.
Tonight, Harrah's Cherokee takes its training wheels off and gets some real live dealer table games. Hooray!
The further encroaching of full on casino gambling into every state, province, city and jurisdiction are all pin sized nails in the coffin of the larger gambling cities - Atlantic City, Reno/Tahoe AND Las Vegas.
There is nothing exciting about taking a day trip to gamble.
I mean, yeah, if you're hot on some action and need a bump of the stuff, any stuff, then fine, have at it. But something is missing at the racino, riverboat or tribal joint if you don't have a room booked upstairs. Same could be said for staying at the Days Inn on the outskirts of town as well. C'mon cheapass, sleep with the slot machines.
The Murrening craze is sweeping the nation! VT superfriend + FJ contributor BigHoss recently stopped by the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss'ippi to show the south how Murrening is done.
Sexy... in the South's House That Steve Built.
My Dad is not a gambler. He can count the number of times he's been to Vegas on one and a half hands in his 81 years circling the sun. Ever since he married Gloria, 8 years ago, he's been going to Vegas and hitting all the tribal casinos in southern California.
Recently, we met up with Dad and Gloria during one of their casino jaunts to the California desert, where the promise of comped rooms, dinner and a show brought them to Pala Resort and Casino. Being a nosey bastard, I managed to get him to give up the keys so I could sneak in and take photos.
Pala is one of the nicer (and larger) casino resorts in Southern California and is a short goat trail of a drive from the heavily advertised Pechanga. The casino offers all of the standard games - slots, video poker, blackjack, carnival poker games, mini-baccarat, paigow - plus the ubiquitous "California Craps" game where cards are used to determine actionable numbers instead of dice.
When most people hear the word "Cherokee," they likely think of a favorite stripper or porn star or maybe the most coif-flopping song by the seminal synth metal hair band, Europe or all three together while driving in a Jeep.
In western North Carolina though, the name is synonymous with the proud and good people who settled in the mountains thousands of years before people from Europe (not the band) showed up to write one of the saddest chapters in American history with the blood and tears of the peaceful tribe.
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